Serena Williams has dropped her bid for a calendar Grand Slam after losing in three sets to unseeded Italian Roberta Vinci in the semi-final of the US Open on Friday.
A nerveless Vinci succeeded on 42 out of her 57 first serves against Serena’s 30 to 45 differentials to claim a 2-6 6-4 6-4 win.
She sets up an all-Italian final against a player positioned 17 places above her in the WTA rankings, Flavia Pennetta on Saturday.
It will be the first Grand Slam final between two Italians and the first between two women of ages +30 in the Open Era.
“I’m sorry for the American people, for Serena the Grand Slam, everything… But today is my day,” the 5 foot 4 inches tall Taranto native, who as well as her opponent in tomorrow’s championship match will be competing in their first Grand Slam final, said in her on-court interview.
“I will enjoy this moment today – and then tomorrow we will see.”
Pennetta, seeded 26th, earlier on Friday sailed past Romanian Simona Halep 6-1 6-3 as both the first and second seed were ousted from Flushing Meadows in the last 4 of the women’s singles.
Is it the defeat? Or the fact that the world No. 43 had never beaten the American in all their four meetings prior to Friday? Or because Serena would have moved within a single win margin of becoming only the fourth woman after Steffi Graff (1988), Margaret Court (1970) and Maureen Connolly Brinker (1953) to hold all Grand Slam trophies at once in a single year, had she scaled Vinci’s hurdle?
The 33-year-old was not just an overwhelming favourite against Vinci but also to achieve what could have become her 22nd major triumph and a record seventh in New York, but in the end it was great to see the courageous underdog triumph while shattering what would have been the toast of a glittering career by the tennis queen from Compton, who nonetheless remains one of the greatest players of all-time.
“I don’t want to talk about how disappointing this is for me,” Serena said in her press conference.
“She played out of her mind. I don’t think I played that bad – made a few more unforced errors – but she played really well.
“I made a couple of tight shots – about two – but that is normal in any match for me.”
Vinci’s previous best Grand Slam result were US Open quarter-final appearances in 2012 and 2013, but has topped the year-end world No. 1 rankings in the women’s doubles twice, 2012 and 2014, alongside compatriot and Italy No. 1 Sara Errani.
Both players traded breaks in the third and fourth games of the opening set, with the top seed, who was first to drop serve in a deuce game, holding to close out a one-set-to-love lead.
Vinci upped the antic on Williams midway in the second set, while the world No. 1 was already capping twice as much unforced errors as his opponent.
The 32-year-old moved to within a break of Williams in the fifth game and they both held serves for the rest of the set as the Italian tied the match a set apiece.
The third set went with serves until the seventh game, when a Serena consecutive double faults allowed Vinci to open a 15-30 lead and, despite the lowly rated Vinci making a mess of a double break point, Serena slammed an easy volley into the net for deuce.
The resilient Vinci continued to get behind every of Serena’s ball and then conjured her fourth break point on her tenth attempt to move 3-4 up.
The 21-time major winner brought up two break points in the ensuing game but sent the first one long and even when she appeared in control of the second rally; suddenly steered the ball into the tramlines. With Serena’s groundstrokes failing like last night’s New York weather, Vinci claimed the resultant deuce game to move one game away.
Two aces and a smash helped Serena save match point before Vinci served out the the two-hour long contest for the biggest win of her career.
“When I woke up this morning I said to myself ‘I have a semi-final, just enjoy it, don’t think about Serena.’ I didn’t expect to win – but I won!” she beamed at the largely disappointed crowd on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“I said in my mind ‘out the ball on the court and run. And don’t think about Serena on the other side of the court.”