September 13, 2015

The Anti Anti-Climax

We were supposed to watch history happen this weekend at the U.S. Open. And with tickets to the ladies' final selling out before the men's for the first time in recent memory, it seemed clear most fans believed the one storyline everyone was chasing was inevitable. Serena Williams was going to win the calendar year Grand Slam, tie Steffi-Graf for an Open Era record twenty-two Major wins, and cement her place as the greatest women's tennis player in history.

Well things didn't go quite as we might have expected, but that doesn't mean we didn't see some amazing action during the closing days in New York. In fact, we may have seen a different kind of history made instead.

On the women's side of the draw, the drama got amped up during Friday's rain-delayed semifinals. It started when Flavia Pennetta, who's had some of her best results in Flushing Meadows, took the court against second seeded Simona Halep -- the heavy favorite had battled through some of her previous matches, needing three sets against both Sabine Lisicki and two-time runner-up Victoria Azarenka on her way to the Final Four. But the twenty-sixth seed had been tested too, taking out former champ Sam Stosur and Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova during her run too. And she was even more impressive against Halep, needing less than an hour to oust the heavy favorite and make her first ever Slam final.

Of course it was the second semi that really captured everyone's attention. Serena was taking on Roberta Vinci, a woman who'd never taken a set off her -- never even won more than four games in a set -- and who'd been mightily struggling with her singles career over the past eighteen months. The Italian was coming off first first Major quarterfinal win, having only made it that far two times before, but she hadn't really been challenged during her run in the Big Apple. With Genie Bouchard pulling out of their fourth round, she didn't face a single seed until Friday, and at just #43 in the world, few thought she had any chance against the most dominating top seed possible. But after squandering an early break and dropping the first set, Vinci didn't give up -- she grabbed a break again in the second and this time held on to force a decider, and then even came back from an early deficit in the third to nab the lead again. With the supreme underdog serving for the match at 5-4, most may have expected Williams to roar back under the pressure and obliterate her opponent, but somehow the Italian held at love to score the biggest win of her career and stop Serena's two match wins short of her goal.

By the time Saturday's final came around, I'm not sure anyone knew what to expect -- Pennetta and Vinci had a combined age of fifty-five and a combined ranking of sixty-nine. Not unlike last year's men's final, when two heavy favorites were both shockingly upset by relative underdogs, we were seeing two players who'd never contested a Major championship match. And nerves were high from the start -- Pennetta, the seeded and slightly more experienced of the pair, seemed a little shaky at the start, ceding an early break herself in the opening set. But she regained composure as the game went on, claiming the tiebreak and taking a two-break lead in the second before claiming the win over her good friend and countrywoman. And after what can only be described as the most surprising of Cinderella runs, the thirty-three year old -- incidentally, the oldest ever first time Slam winner -- surprised us again. Just before accepting the trophy, she announced she'd decided a month ago this would be the last match of her tennis career. Maybe that explains how she was able to hit so freely during the last two weeks, but whatever the driver behind her inspiring campaign in New York, there's certainly no better way to say good-bye than by putting up the very best performance of her career.

So maybe things didn't work out the way many might have wanted, but you can't deny how amazing the performances from these two women were over the past fortnight. And while something tells me we haven't heard the last from Serena as she starts back on her quest in the coming months, maybe what we saw the last few days proves there's hope for everyone out there to make history themselves.

And that it's never too late to pick up the biggest title of your career.

1 comment:

Williams versus Halep said...

It was expected for Serena Williams to win yesterday's game played in the US Opem 2016. Ranked as #1 in WTA, Serena applied successfully her strengths and scored a well deserved victory against Simona Halep. I am sorry to see S. Halep kicked out of the tournament. She could have performed better; hopefully she will readjust the game strategy for the next tournament.