NEW YORK — To win the U.S. Open for her first Grand Slam title at age 33, Flavia Pennetta did not have to beat Serena Williams.
Instead, Pennetta needed to get past the woman who ended Williams’ Grand Slam bid, Roberta Vinci. And Pennetta did just that, pulling away in a matchup between a pair of Italians who were opponents and doubles partners as kids.
In one of the unlikeliest major finals in women’s tennis, the 26th-seeded Pennetta beat Vinci 7-6 (4), 6-2 on Saturday at Flushing Meadows.
Pennetta is the oldest woman in the Open era — which began in 1968 — to become a Grand Slam champion for the first time. Vinci, who is 32, would have earned that distinction is she followed her stunning upset of Williams in Friday’s semifinals with another victory.
This was the first major final for either participant, and the first time since WTA computer rankings were instituted in 1975 that both U.S. Open women’s finalists were ranked outside the top 20 (Vinci is 43rd).
They grew up 40 miles (65 kilometers) apart in coastal towns in Puglia, a region on the heel of Italy’s boot-shaped peninsula, and have been facing each other on court for two decades — with the stakes much lower, of course. They shared some laughter and tears in the locker room together Friday while watching a video of a TV interview they did back in 1999, when they won a junior doubles title at the French Open.
And when Saturday’s match ended, after Pennetta flung her racket overhead, she went up to the net to find Vinci, not for a handshake but for a lengthy hug. Vinci patted her pal on the back repeatedly, while Pennetta cried. Then they sat on adjacent sideline chairs and chatted, just a couple of foes and friends, sharing a special moment.
Vinci pantomimed throwing a punch as a joke, and Pennetta wrapped an arm around her.
Thumbnail photo via Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports Images
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