Flavia Pennetta knew when she arrived in Flushing Meadows, N.Y. before the Aug. 31 start of the 2015 US Open, that it would be the last Grand Slam of her 15-year tennis career. The first Italian woman to ever reach the top 10 had made the decision to retire from the sport during the Rogers Cup in Toronto two weeks earlier, she said. But she probably never imagined the announcement of her retirement to the public would come on the sport’s grandest stage –Arthur Ashe Stadium Court – minutes after becoming the first Italian woman to win the US Open.
In Saturday’s championship match that most expected to feature world No. 1 Serena Williams, who was attempting to become the first player since Steffi Graf in 1988 to win all four Grand Slams in one calendar year, No. 26 Pennetta defeated countrywoman and good friend Roberta Vinci, 7-6 (4), 6-2. It was the first-ever major final appearance for both women and the first all-Italian Grand Slam final. Vinci pulled off one of the greatest upsets of all time by defeating Williams in three sets in Friday’s semifinals.
“Winning or lose today, it was nothing going to change [about my decision to retire],” Pennetta told reporters in her post-match press conference. “The decision was already there. I think this is the best way that someone have – if I have to dream about how I want to finish, I want to stop playing, this is the perfect way.”
Asked what prompted her decision, the 33-year-old, who now sits at No. 6 in the race to the WTA’s season-ending championship in Singapore and No. 8 in the overall rankings, said, “Because sometimes it’s getting hard for me to compete.” The tennis season runs for about 11 months and Pennetta said the grind was beginning to feel like too much.
“When you are in the court, when you have to play 24 weeks in the year, you have to fight every week,” Pennetta said. “And if you don’t fight every week. And if you don’t fight every week in the same way I did today, it’s gonna be, like, bad. And I don’t feel to have this power anymore sometimes. So this is the perfect moment, I think. Was a really hard decision to make, but I’m really happy that I did it. I’m really happy and proud of myself.”
Pennetta said she still plans to play the remaining tournaments on her schedule, in Wuhan and Beijing. She also said she would play additional tournaments, if needed, to secure her spot in Singapore. When asked if there was a chance she would play the 2016 Olympics, Pennetta responded, “For the moment, it’s not on my goals.”
Pennetta’s fairytale run in New York resulted in her first title since March 2014, when she defeated 2012 Wimbledon finalist Agnieszka Radwanska for the Indian Wells title, and only her second since 2010.
The oldest first-time Grand Slam women’s singles winner in the Open era, Pennetta has twice come back from wrist surgery, first at the end of 2006 and then again in August 2012. In 2013 her ranking dropped to No. 166.
Saturday’s most unlikely final between two players ranked outside the top 20 is symptomatic of improved depth in the women’s game, Pennetta said.
“It’s not like 10 years ago where the top 10 was a really high level,” Pennetta said. “I mean, it’s not that they are not more high level. It’s the one behind them they are coming stronger. So now everything can happen.”
Both players appeared nervous in the early stages of the final but it was Pennetta who eventually settled into her game. She tallied 28 winners to only 22 unforced errors while Vinci hit only 21 winners to 30 unforced errors. Pennetta also won 69 percent of the points on her first serve while Vinci converted only 55 percent.
“[Pennetta] was more solid than me and she play much better backhand, long line, and she served much better than me today,” Vinci said. “She play better, yeah. …I think this is an incredible moment for all Italian people. So now when I come home back at home, I can realize what we made.”
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Spark Sports Tennis Analyst