Flavia Pennetta buried the lede.
It wasn’t enough that the 33-year-old Italian won the first major championship of her 15-year career by beating her countrywoman, Fed Cup teammate and friend of more than 20 years, Roberta Vinci, 7-6 (4), 6-2 to win the U.S. Open.
Pennetta’s bigger news, the words she sputtered in heavily accented English after telling trophy presenter Robin Roberts, “One more thing,” was that she is retiring from the sport, effective year’s end, and that she will not defend her title here next year. It is news that even her fiancé, Fabio Fognini, the ATP player who upset Rafael Nadal here and flew back into New York from Italy yesterday, did not know until this morning.
Sometimes it’s getting hard for me to compete. When you are on the court, when you have to play 24 weeks a year, you have to fight every week. I don’t feel I have this power anymore.
U.S. Open champion Flavia Pennetta
“It is the way I would like to say goodbye to tennis,” said the 26th-ranked Pennetta, who reached the semifinals here two years ago but otherwise had never advanced beyond the quarterfinals in 47 attempts at a major. “It’s what all the players want to do, go out with this big trophy.”
Pennetta is not the first player to quit the sport on the heels of winning a major. Steffi Graf retired a little more than a month after winning the 1999 French Open and reaching the final at Wimbledon. Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli called it quits a month after capturing her first major at Wimbledon in 2013. Pete Sampras debated for months, without playing, after being victorious at the 2002 U.S. Open but then decided he was done.
For Pennetta, ranked No. 1 in the world in doubles four years ago but never higher than No. 10 in singles, this was the pinnacle. Before this U.S. Open, she conceded, she thought she would never win one of the sport’s most coveted titles.
That she could do so by beating Vinci, her roommate for four years when they moved to Rome together to train as teenagers, simply added to the feel-good nature of the story and made it easy to forget that Serena Williams was supposed to be in this final, contesting for the Grand Slam.
“Sometimes it’s getting hard for me to compete,” said Pennetta, who earned $3.3 million with the win. “When you are on the court, when you have to play 24 weeks a year, you have to fight every week. I don’t feel I have this power anymore.”
With this, winning today, my life is perfect.
No. 26-ranked Flavia Pennetta
Pennetta broke early in the first set after Vinci saved six break points. But Vinci broke back for 4-4 and then sent the set into a tiebreaker, which Pennetta won with a 94 mph service winner out wide. Pennetta then raced to a 4-0 lead in the second, as dark clouds gathered overhead. With Vinci serving down 5-2, 0-30, the rain drops began to fall. It poured within minutes of the postmatch ceremony.
“With this, winning today, my life is perfect,” said a grinning Pennetta, who only told Vinci of her decision as they two were seated side-by-side together waiting for the trophy presentation. Vinci’s response was to punch her friend in the arm, say “Che? Che? Huh?” and then tell her to go enjoy a perfect ending.
It is what Pennetta plans to do.
Frenchmen Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut claimed their first major title with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Jamie Murray of Great Britain and John Peers of Australia in the men’s doubles final. Herbert and Mahut were runners-up at the Australian Open. Murray and Peers were doubles finalists at Wimbledon. Murray is the older brother of No. 3 Andy Murray.