Flavia Pennatta Reigns, Then Retires, at U.S. Open

NEW YORK CITY—Flavia Pennatta holds her nerve as Roberta Vinci makes a last attempt to break her service game and slams back a great defensive shot that her friend and compatriot catches with a quick forehand but sends long.

It’s 5-3 in the second set of the women’s final at the U.S. Open, and as she goes to the baseline to serve to stay in the match, Roberta Vinci, who overcame 300-1 odds in the previous day’s semifinal win over the No. 1 seed appears, at long last, truly exhausted. She has been serving well all afternoon, with cunning and courage against the higher-ranked Miss Pennatta, 150-1 odds in this match, and it may cross her mind quickly that she held her serve yesterday, held it without conceding a point in that astonishing final game.

Saturday is not Friday. And it’s over quickly. Flavia stays focused, on point, determined. A few solid grounds strokes and an error by Roberta gives her triple break—triple match point in effect, and she only needs one, a forehand that she hits inside out to go to her friend’s left, unreachable.

Tremendous match. Admittedly, the drama was in the first set, when it appeared close right through the tiebreak, and in the second Miss Pennatta got a big lead early; still, Miss Vinci, with the old fashioned style, very heavy on sliced one-handed backhands and graceful approaches to the net, that flummoxed the No. 1 seed and defending champion Serena Williams in the semi, gave her higher-ranked friend a run for her money (3.3 mil if you want to know; runner up gets half that) and a bit of a scare in the middle of the second.

They embraced and hugged at the net under the applause and the yells, the admiration of the the packed house at Ashe Stadium at the Billie Jean King Center in Flushing Meadows, Queens. At the U.S. Open we like American winners, but we are good sports and these two have been amazing, defying all odds to get to this place  in sports history. The winner, indeed, is about to announce that, at 33, she is retiring; her near contemporary compatriot is mum on that, maybe we’ll see her again and she’ll be welcome, notwithstanding what she did yesterday—no, on the contrary, due to that, too. America is where everything is possible.

Somehow a seat was found for Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who reportedly flew in overnight on the spur of the moment when he learned it would be, unprecedented, an all-Italian finale. As always there were plenty of others of renown, and Robert Redford  got a big round of applause, perhaps because he has made sports movies. This certainly had all the ingredients of a sweet heartwarmer.

They both were very happy, two young women from Italy’s deep south who have been quite successful in doubles, winning every tournament on the Grand Slam circuit in that category, but never coming  close to this in singles.

The men’s final tomorrow will be as predicted by the alleged experts—the first and second seeds, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, meeting after fantastic runs during which neither one lost a single set. But until tomorrow afternoon, the thoughts of tennis fans will be with the two classy ladies who, were they not such fine athletes and were they wearing black dresses and shawls, could be cast in a film by Pier Paolo Pasolini. They have the sharp features, bony cheeks, thin hooked noses and hawkish eyes over the pinched lips of Mediterranean peasants. Only he would have to do something about their smiles. Their smiles this afternoon opened up their charming and pleasant faces,  smiles as big as all New York.


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