La Dolce Flavia
In a U.S. Open women's competition chocked full of enough surprises to overflow Arthur Ashe Stadium -- with or without roof -- Flavia Pennetta provided the final one. Then, pausing to add "one thing more," she threw in another for good measure.
Pennetta and Roberta Vinci playing for the women's singles title in New York was a match-up that marked a series of grand slam firsts. The first all-Italian affair. The first all-thirtysomething contest between first-time slam finalists. Whoever won was going to be the oldest maiden slam champ, as well as having taken more attempts to rise to such a level than almost every other slam winner in the Open era. 33-year old Pennetta was playing in her 49th career slam (no one has ever played in so many before winning a title), while her longtime friend, competitor, Fed Cup teammate and former doubles partner Vinci, 32, was participating in her 44th.
But only Pennetta was going to announce her retirement during the trophy ceremony that followed the match. And that's just what she did, too ...after defeating Vinci 7-6(4)/6-2 in a composed, orderly manner to join countrywoman Francesca Schiavone as the only Italian women to ever win a slam singles title.
Make no mistake, this women's final wasn't the one that anyone ever envisioned. But it existed on the concluding Saturday of this U.S. Open as something of an oddity. A circus sideshow designed to catch your attention simply because of it's unique qualities.
"Step right up, ladies and gentlemen! See the women from the mysterious land of Italy. Both aged into their thirties, both here to entertain you. They aren't named Serena, but they come with their own special delights of which you'll sure to never see on such a stage again in your lifetime. You've heard the stories, and now you can see the truth with your very own eyes. All you have to do in walk right through here. Step right up!"
For those who dared to satisfy their curiosity (and it was surely far fewer than would have been the case had Grand Slam history of another kind been on the line), while it wasn't a particularly spectacular match, it was an interesting experiment in seeing just how an athlete responds the day AFTER the biggest moment of their respective careers, especially when they're faced with the reality of having to strive for something even bigger and better against a friend that they've known, and stood shoulder to shoulder with in some of the best moments on either's tennis resume, since they were nine years old.
Of course, had we known the REST of the story playing out before us, we might have viewed it with different eyes. But if we'd been privy to the decision Pennetta was keeping inside, who knows how things might have played out on this day with everything out in the open. To be talked about. To be weighed. To grow hair as a pressure-creating topic of unending discussion (just ask Serena Williams about that). As it turned out, competing with some of her cards held close to her vest, Pennetta provided herself with and took advantage of the opportunity so few have, in their career or life -- to go out on top of the world.
Early on, though, Pennetta was a bit tight. She didn't do much with her shots, and seemed content to simply take a conservative approach until she got her footing on such a big stage, albeit one where she's often raised her game in the past. She carved an ace up the middle to reach game point, then got to a short ball that Vinci failed to then get back to hold for 1-1. Three games later, Pennetta needed seven break points to break Vinci, which she was finally able to do to go up 3-2. The deft touch and brilliant gets that Vinci was able to keep inside the lines during her upset of #1 Williams on Friday on this day were often failing to get over the net or landing outside the lines. A Pennetta ace (declared so via replay) gave her a game point to consolidate her break, which she did when Vinci's reply to her drop shot was put into the net to put the score at 4-2. Pennetta wavered a bit a game later. Vinci passed her with a one-handed backhand to reach break point, then a Pennetta backhand error put things back on serve at 4-4.
The 1st set eventually would be decided by a tie-break, with the twenty-one year history of the winner of the opening set going on to take the title hanging over the proceedings (the last time it didn't happen that way was in 1994 when Steffi Graf claiming the set against ultimate 3rd set winner Arantxa Sanchez).
Vinci's long forehand gave Pennetta the first mini-break at 3-2, then Pennetta's wide backhand gave it back at 4-3. Another Vinci error a point later handed a 5-3 lead to Pennetta, who then served out the TB from 5-4, clinching the set with a wide serve that Vinci failed to get back to win 7-4.
In the 2nd, Vinci's level of play quickly began to fall away. It was if she'd made the decision that this was just a one-set affair. She made an error on an easy shot in game #2, then fired a ball long to break her own serve as Pennetta took a 2-0 lead eight minutes into the set. A backhand winner two games later gave Pennetta two chances for a double break, which she got on #2 when a Vinci error made the score 4-0. Vinci put away a volley to get one break back a game later, but as the rain clouds began to move in over Ashe Stadium Pennetta confidently raced toward the finish line. A drop shot and lob combination produced a long Vinci reply that made it 5-2.
In the final game, it was if Vinci was trying to get things over with to avoid the coming rain. She quickly fell behind love/30, then attempted a drop shot in her first groundstroke chance the next point. Pennetta got to it, then Vinci offered a weak set-up lob that Pennetta handily put away with an overhead as Vinci turned her back to the net. It was match point. And since Vinci was seemingly keen to bring things to a close, she offered a light shot down the middle of the court on the match's final point. Pennetta put it away with a forehand winner to win the title, then flung her racket into the air in celebration of the moment that no one had predicted.
All that followed, rather than the actual play, was what really what made this final memorable. Pennetta and Vinci embraced at the net, then while they sat waiting for the trophy ceremony Pennetta told her about her retirement plans. As the two friends sat and talked, and gestured to their boxes in the stands, it was hard to tell which one had won the match and which had not. In some instances, that might stir some unkind sentiments, but this generation of Italian stars -- Pennetta, Vinci, Schiavone and Sara Errani, all slam finalists and two champions while also combining to win four Fed Cups -- is so intertwined that it'd be news if one WASN'T as happy for her countrywoman as she might have been for herself.
During the ceremony, Vinci resumed the role of Chief Crowd Cracker-Upper, charmingly blurting out honesty, joking with Pennetta and winning new fans by the second. Of course, the big announcement would come last, and sort of out of the blue. Before she was to lift the championship trophy, Pennetta told Robin Roberts that she wanted to add "one more thing," and then she announced that she'd decided a month ago that she was going to retire. Suddenly, a great moment became a bittersweet one, as well.
But it didn't dim Pennetta's moment in the spotlight. In some ways, it cemented it even MORE into our collective memory. Her underappreciated career is now trapped in the amber of a New York run that makes her an unforgettable part of U.S. Open lore. That'll never change.
So everyone was right... this Open WAS destined to play host to history. Sweet.
=DAY 13 NOTES=
...a Slovak-Russian pair were crowned the Girls Doubles champions on Saturday.
Slovak Viktoria Kuzmova and Russian Aleksandra Pospelova defeated the all-Hordette pair of Anna Kalinskaya & Anastasia Potapova 7-5/6-2 in the final.
Meanwhile, the junior singles finals are set. #9-seeded Bannerette Sonya Kenin advanced to the final, becoming the fourth U.S. girl in the last five years to advance so far at Flushing Meadows. She defeated #11-seeded Hungarian Fanny Stollar. She'll face #2 seed Dalma Galfi, another Hungarian who knocked off American Francesca Di Lorenzo in today's other semifinal.
In the boys final, it'll be another all-American final, a rematch of the recent Roland Garros junior championship in which Tommy Paul (#5 seed here) defeated Taylor Fritz (#1).
...UCLA players swept the Collegiate Invitational tournament at Flushing Meadows. In an all-Bruin affair, #2-seeded Robin Anderson defeated Chanelle Van Nguyen 6-4/6-4 to take the second-ever women's crown, while #2-seeded Mackenzie McDonald won the men's with a 6-2/7-5 victory over Vanderbilt's Gonzales Austin.
...in the wheelchair semis, both Dutch top seeds were taken out in singles today by separate parts of the #1-seeded doubles team that lost earlier this week in the semifinals.
2014 U.S. Open champ Yui Kamiji defeated Jiske Griffioen 7-5/3-6/6-4, ending the #1 seed's hopes of sweeping the 2015 WC singles slam titles. Kamiji finally put the match away after serving for the win for the second time. She'll next face friend and doubles partner Jordanne Whiley in the final. The Brit defeated #2 Aniek Van Koot 6-7(1)/6-4/6-3 in the other semi to reach her first career slam singles final.
Talk about bouncing back! Defending champs @jordannejoyce92 & Yui Kamiji lose the doubles but both make the singles final. Congrats to both— Bobito (@bobito64) September 12, 2015
The women's wheelchair final will resume on Sunday, with #1 Griffioen/Van Koot tied 4-4 with Buis/Ellerbrock.
...the women's doubles final will also be played tomorrow, as Martina Hingis & Sania Mirza attempt to win back-to-back slam crowns. It'd be Hingis second title of this Open, her fifth slam victory this season alone, as well as the twentieth combined major title of her (already, since 2013) Hall of Fame career.
...in the WTA $125K Series event in Dalian, China it was top-seeded Zheng Saisai who advanced to the final today with a win over her Chinese countrywoman Wang Qiang in the semifinals. She'll face Israel's Julia Glushko, who defeated Petra Martic of Croatia in the other semifinal.
Zheng, 21, won a tour-level doubles title in Stanford earlier this summer with Xu Yifan, and also reached the doubles final with Zhang Kai-Lin in this season's previous WTA $125K Series event in Nanchang. She previously reached a Series singles final in 2013 in Suzhou, losing to Shahar Peer.
In the $100K challenger in Biarritez, German Laura Siegemund and Swiss Romina Oprandi will meet in the final to decide the title.
LIKE ON DAY 13: Only one other knows the feeling.
While another is there in spirit.
PROMISE FOR DAY 13, circa 2016?:
SHOWING-THEIR-CARDS? ON DAY 13: Hmmm, since the first two ads ESPN aired during the first commercial break following the end of the women's final BOTH featured Serena Williams are we to assume that this wasn't the final result that everyone was expecting when the ad time was purchased?
That's a rhetorical question, of course
IF ONLY ON DAY 13: "When you have a moment, I'd like to talk about your wild card 'playoff' rules. Grazie."
LIKE ON DAY 13: Through the years...
LIKE ON DAY 13: This Open has had a lot of good post-match embraces.
...and, finally, while it's a nice, understandable decision by Pennetta to retire on top, as it was for various reasons for both Marion Bartoli and Li Na (and Kim Clijsters 2.0, for that matter) to exit the so sport soon after winning a slam title, it really is robbing the tour of the ability to celebrate its veteran champions beyond the immediate moments following their most recent wins.
Late career success after spending more than a decade getting to such a moment doesn't have to always be a perfect time to say goodbye. It almost makes you not want to root for another veteran to win an unexpected slam, opening the door for yet another repeat of such a scenario. Almost, but not quite. But it sure will now make it a required practice to try to read between the lines of the NEXT surging vet's comments during a slam, attempting to decipher the signs about whether or not "the best" moment is also about to be the last. At the very least, I don't think Federer will retire tomorrow if he wins his first slam in three years. Right? Don't you be getting any ideas, Roger.
Not sure what to think, really. But at least it looks like we'll get at least a few more looks at Flavia before the end of 2015.
*WOMEN'S SINGLES FINAL*
#26 Flavia Pennetta/ITA def. Roberta Vinci/ITA 7-6(4)/6-2
*MEN'S SINGLES FINAL*
#1 Novak Djokovic/SRB vs. #2 Roger Federer/SUI
*WOMEN'S DOUBLES FINAL*
#1 M.Hingis/S.Mirza (SUI/IND) vs. #4 C.Dellacqua/Y.Shvedova (AUS/KAZ)
*MEN'S DOUBLES FINAL*
#12 P.Herbert/N.Mahut (FRA/FRA) def. #8 J.Murray/J.Peers (GBR/AUS) 6-4/6-4
*MIXED DOUBLES FINAL*
#4 M.Hingis/L.Paes (SUI/IND) def. B.Mattek-Sands/S.Querrey (USA/USA) 6-4/3-6 [10-7]
*GIRLS SINGLES FINAL*
#9 Sonya Kenin/USA vs. #2 Dalma Galfi/HUN
*BOYS SINGLES SF*
#1 Taylor Fritz/USA vs. #5 Tommy Paul/USA
*GIRLS DOUBLES FINAL*
V.Kuzmova/A.Pospelova (SVK/RUS) def. A.Kalinskaya/A.Potapova (RUS/RUS) 7-5/6-2
*BOYS DOUBLES FINAL*
B.Holt/R.Smith (USA/USA) vs. F.Aliassime/D.Shapovalov (CAN/CAN)
*BJK COLLEGIATE INVITIATIONAL WOMEN'S FINAL*
#2 Robin Anderson (UCLA) def. Chanelle Van Nguyen (UCLA) 6-4/6-4
*BJK COLLEGIATE INVITIATIONAL MEN'S FINAL*
#2 Mackenzie McDonald (UCLA) def. #4 Gonzales Austin (Vanderbilt) 6-2/7-5
*WC WOMEN'S SINGLES FINAL*
Yui Kamiji/JPN vs. Jordanne Whiley/GBR
*WC MEN'S SINGLES FINAL*
#1 Shingo Kunieda/JPN vs. Stephane Houdet/FRA
*WC WOMEN'S DOUBLES FINAL*
M.Buis/S.Ellerbrock (NED/GER) vs. #2 J.Griffioen/A.Van Koot (NED/NED)
*WC MEN'S DOUBLES FINAL*
#1 S.Houdet/G.Reid (FRA/GBR) vs. M.Jeremiasz/N.Peifer (FRA/FRA)
Wow!! @flavia_pennetta talking about finishing off in style!! Couldn't happen to a nicer person! Congratulation and happy retirement!!??????— Caroline Wozniacki (@CaroWozniacki) September 12, 2015
Could not have happened to a nicer person ?? @flavia_pennetta! Grandeeee— Daria Gavrilova (@Daria_gav) September 12, 2015
And of course congratulations @roberta_vinci!!!!!!!!!! Both so genuine and super nice ?— Daria Gavrilova (@Daria_gav) September 12, 2015
*CAREER SLAM FINALS - ACTIVE*
25...Serena Williams, USA (21-4)
14...Venus Williams, USA (7-7)
10...Maria Sharapova, RUS (5-5)
4...Victoria Azarenka, BLR (2-2)
4...Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS (2-2)
3...Ana Ivanovic, SRB (1-2)
2...Petra Kvitova, CZE (2-0)
2...Francesca Schiavone, ITA (1-1)
2...Samantha Stosur, AUS (1-1)
2...Caroline Wozniacki, DEN (0-2)
2...Vera Zvonareva, RUS (0-2)
1...FLAVIA PENNETTA, ITA (1-0)
1...Eugenie Bouchard, CAN (0-1)
1...Dominika Cibulkova, SVK (0-1)
1...Sara Errani, ITA (0-1)
1...Simona Halep, ROU (0-1)
1...Jelena Jankovic, SRB (0-1)
1...Sabine Lisicki, GER (0-1)
1...Garbine Muguruza, ESP (0-1)
1...Agnieszka Radwanska, POL (0-1)
1...Lucie Safarova, CZE (0-1)
1...ROBERTA VINCI, ITA (0-1)
**MOST SLAMS BEFORE FIRST TITLE**
49 - Flavia Pennetta (2015 U.S. Open)
47 - Marion Bartoli (2013 Wimbledon)
45 - Jana Novotna (1998 Wimbledon)
39 - Francesca Schiavone (2010 Roland Garros)
34 - Samantha Stosur (2011 U.S. Open)
31 - Amelie Mauresmo (2006 Australian Open)
29 - Jennifer Capriati (2001 Australian Open)
28 - Kerry Melville-Reid (1978 Australian Open)
26 - Lindsay Davenport (1998 U.S. Open)
25 - Victoria Azarenka (2012 Australian Open)
**OLDEST FIRST-TIME SLAM CHAMPS**
33y,199d - Flavia Pennetta, 2015 U.S. Open
29y,347d - Francesca Schiavone, 2010 Roland Garros
29y,9m - Jana Novotna, 1998 Wimbledon
29y,5m - Kerry Melville-Reid, 1977 Australian Open
29y,3m - Li Na, 2011 Roland Garros
28y,9m - Marion Bartoli, 2013 Wimbledon
**LOW-SEEDED U.S. OPEN CHAMPIONS - OPEN ERA**
Unseeded/Wild Card - Kim Clijsters, BEL (2009)
#26 - Flavia Pennetta, ITA (2015)
#9 - Samantha Stosur, AUS (2011)
#9 - Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS (2004)
#7 - Serena Williams, USA (1999)
#6 - Virginia Wade, GBR (1968)
**FIRST-TIME SLAM CHAMPS AT U.S. OPEN - OPEN ERA**
1968 Virginia Wade, GBR
1979 Tracy Austin, USA
1990 Gabriela Sabatini, ARG
1998 Lindsay Davenport, USA
1999 Serena Williams, USA
2004 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2005 Kim Clijsters, BEL
2011 Samantha Stosur, AUS
2015 Flavia Pennetta, ITA
*ALL-NATION SLAM FINALS - since 2003*
2003 Australian Open - Serena Williams d. Venus Williams (USA)
2003 Roland Garros - Justine Henin-H. d. Kim Clijsters (BEL)
2003 Wimbledon - Serena Williams d. Venus Williams (USA)
2003 U.S. Open - Justine Henin-H. d. Kim Clijsters (BEL)
2004 Australian Open - Justine Henin-H. d. Kim Clijsters (BEL)
2004 Roland Garros - Anastasia Myskina d. Elena Dementieva (RUS)
2004 U.S. Open - Svetlana Kuznetsova d. Elena Dementieva (RUS)
2005 Australian Open - Serena Williams d. Lindsay Davenport (USA)
2005 Wimbledon - Venus Williams d. Lindsay Davenport (USA)
2008 Wimbledon - Venus Williams d. Serena Williams (USA)
2009 Roland Garros - Svetlana Kuznetsova d. Dinara Safina (RUS)
2009 Wimbledon - Serena Williams d. Venus Williams (USA)
2015 U.S. Open - Flavia Pennetta d. Roberta Vinci (ITA)
**2015 OLDEST WTA SINGLES CHAMPIONS**
34y6m3w - Venus Williams, USA (Auckland)
33y11m1w - Serena Williams, USA (Cincinnati)
33y9m3w - Serena Williams, USA (Wimbledon)
33y8m2w - Serena Williams, USA (Roland Garros)
33y6m2w - Serena Williams, USA (Miami)
33y6m2w - FLAVIA PENNETA, ITA (U.S. Open)
33y4m1w - Serena Williams, USA (Australian Open)
31y9m3w - Daniela Hantuchova, SVK (Pattaya City)
31y4m - Samantha Stosur, AUS (Bad Gastein)
31y3w - Samantha Stosur, AUS (Strasbourg)
**2015 WTA ALL-NATION FINALS**
Sydney - (CZE) Kvitova d. Ka.Pliskova
Prague - (CZE) Ka.Pliskova d. Hradecka
Nurnburg - (ITA) Knapp d. Vinci
New Haven - (CZE) Kvitova d. Safarova
U.S. Open - (ITA) Pennetta d. Vinci
**U.S. OPEN "DOUBLES STAR" WINNERS**
2006 Martina Navratilova, USA
2007 Nathalie Dechy, FRA
2008 Cara Black, ZIM
2009 Carly Gullickson, USA
2010 Liezel Huber, USA
2011 Melanie Oudin, USA
2012 Ekaterina Makarova, RUS
2013 Andrea Hlavackova, CZE
2014 Yui Kamiji & Jordanne Whiley, JPN/GBR (WC)
2015 Martina Hingis, SUI
AO: Bethanie Mattek-Sands/Lucie Safarova, USA/CZE
RG: Bethanie Mattek-Sands, USA
WI: Sania Mirza, IND
US: Martina Hingis, SUI
**RECENT U.S. OPEN GIRLS FINALS**
2005 Victoria Azarenka/BLR def. Alexa Glatch/USA
2006 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS def. Tamira Paszek/AUT
2007 Kristina Kucova/SVK def. Urszula Radwanska/POL
2008 Coco Vandeweghe/USA def. Gabriela Paz/VEN
2009 Heather Watson/GBR def. Yana Buchina/RUS
2010 Daria Gavrilova/RUS def. Yulia Putintseva/RUS
2011 Grace Min/USA def. Caroline Garcia/FRA
2012 Samantha Crawford/USA def. Anett Kontaveit/EST
2013 Ana Konjuh/CRO def. Tornado Alicia Black/USA
2014 Marie Bouzkova/CZE def. Anhelina Kalinina/UKR
2015 Sonya Kenin/USA vs. Dalma Galfi/HUN
**RECENT U.S. OPEN GIRLS DOUBLES CHAMPIONS**
2010 Timea Babos / Sloane Stephens, HUN/USA
2011 Irina Khromacheva / Demi Schuurs, RUS/NED
2012 Gabby Andrews / Taylor Townsend, USA/USA
2013 Barbora Krejcikova / Katerina Siniakova, CZE/CZE
2014 Ipek Soylu / Jil Teichmann, TUR/SUI
2015 Viktoria Kuzmova / Aleksandra Pospelova, SVK/RUS
AO: Miriam Kolodziejova / Marketa Vondrousova, CZE/CZE
RG: Miriam Kolodziejova / Marketa Vondrousova, CZE/CZE
WI: Dalma Galfi / Fanni Stollar, HUN/HUN
US: Viktoria Kuzmova / Aleksandra Pospelova, SVK/RUS
TOP QUALIFIER: (WC) Jessica Pegula/USA
TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): #2 Simona Halep/ROU
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): #2 Simona Halep/ROU
TOP LATE-ROUND (SF-F): #26 Flavia Pennetta/ITA
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q3: Tereza Mrdeza/CRO d. #2 Yaroslava Shvedova/KAZ 5-7/7-6(8)/7-6(4) [3:12; saved 3 MP]
TOP EARLY-RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 2nd Rd. - #12 Belinda Bencic/SUI d. Misaki Doi/JPN 5-7/7-6(3)/6-3 (down 3 MP in 2nd; outburst/crying/no shake umpire's hand)
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): 3rd Rd. - #20 Victoria Azarenka/BLR d. #11 Angelique Kerber/GER 7-5/2-6/6-4
TOP LATE-RD. MATCH (SF-F/Jr.): SF - Roberta Vinci/ITA d. #1 Serena Williams/USA 2-6/6-4/6-4
TOP ASHE NIGHT SESSION MATCH: Petra Cetkovska/CZE d. #4 Carolina Wozniacki/DEN 6-4/5-7/7-6(1) (saved 4 MP; ended past midnight after 3:02)
FIRST VICTORY: Mariana Duque/COL (def. Kenin/USA)
FIRST SEED OUT: #7 Ana Ivanovic/SRB (lost 1st Rd. to Cibulkova/SVK)
UPSET QUEENS: United States
REVELATION LADIES: Japan
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Serbia (1-4; #7 Ivanovic, #21 Jankovic and '14 star Aleksandra Krunic out in 1st Rd.)
CRASH & BURN: #8 Karolina Pliskova/CZE (1st Rd. loss to Tatishvili/USA; :52; U.S. Open Series "winner")
ZOMBIE QUEEN: (LL) Daria Kasatkina/RUS (lucky loser, reached3rd Round after wins over Gavrilova & Konjuh -- best LL slam result since 1997, best at Open since 1993)
IT ("Kiki"): Kristina Mladenovic/FRA
Ms.OPPORTUNITY: Roberta Vinci/ITA
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Johnna Konta/GBR & Anett Kontaveit/EST (both 4th Rd.)
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Bethanie Mattek-Sands/USA (3rd Rd.)
LAST BANNERETTE STANDING: #1 Serena Williams (SF)
COMEBACK PLAYER: #20 Victoria Azarenka/BLR
KIMIKO DATE-KRUMM VETERAN CUP (KDK CUP): #26 Flavia Pennetta/ITA
DOUBLES STAR: Martina Hingis/SUI
BROADWAY-BOUND: Lisa Raymond (farewell New York performance)
LADIES OF THE EVENING: #1 Serena Williams/USA & #23 Venus Williams/USA
JUNIOR BREAKOUT: Nominees: Kenin, Galfi
All for Day 13. More tomorrow.