Sat | May 27, 2017

Tony Becca: Two sides of an upset

Published:Sunday | September 20, 2015 | 9:00 AM
Serena Williams holds her head after losing to Roberta Vinci of Italy during a semi-final match at the US Open tennis tournament yesterday.
Roberta Vinci of Italy reacts after winning the second set against Serena Williams, during a semi-final match at the U.S. Open tennis tournament on Friday, September 11, 2015, in New York.
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The 2015 US Open tennis tournament which ended at Flushing Meadows in New York last Sunday was an occasion to remember, especially for those who love or enjoy the excitement of an upset.

First off, Novak Djokovic of Serbia defeated Roger Federer of Switzerland, probably the finest player of them all, who also boasts a record of 17 Grand Slam titles - to win the men's singles and his 10th Grand Slam title; and second, the surprise, or the upset, of Serena Williams in the women's singles.

Federer played well, especially for a 34-year-old, but in the battle of the number one-ranked player versus number two-ranked player, Djokovic, the number one, played a little better and deserved his victory in four sets and the US$3.3 million winner's prize, although Federer looked threatening for a while.

The match of the tournament, however, was the women's semi-final match between Williams of the USA, the world's number one, the defending champion, and the favourite by far for the title, and Roberta Vinci of Italy.

 

gunning for US Open

 

After winning the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon, Williams was gunning for the US Open and four Grand Slam titles in a calendar year and she was a cinch to win it, especially with Maria Sharapova of Russia pulling out before hitting a ball and with Victoria Azarenka of Belarus falling by the wayside.

All the talk was about Williams becoming the first to do so since Steffi Graf in 1988, especially as the two players who stood in her way were Vinci and Flavia Pennetta, two Italians, two childhood playmates who had never ever contested a Grand Slam final. One was 32 years old, the other was 33, one ranked number 43, the other ranked number 26.

With Pennetta winning her semi-final by upsetting the tournament's number two seed, Simona Halep, in straight sets in the first semi-final and awaiting the winner of the second semi-final, Serena, coming in with a record of 33 successive Grand Slam victories, took on Vinci, who had never even won a set against her and whose season record was 20 wins and 20 losses.

Winning the first set 6-2, and easily at that, it seemed as if Vinci was doomed to lose one more time. Williams appeared way above her class. And when Williams raced to a 2-0 lead in the third set, it was, or so it seemed, all over for Vinci.

Out of the blue, however, Vinci made her move.

Using a mixture of different speeds on her shots, slices, pushes at the net and delicate drop shots, Vinci outfoxed Serena, destroyed her rhythm and won the set at four.

 

tactics working

 

With the emotions of Serena coming to the fore in that set, however, screaming, stomping and pointing, Vinci remained cool until, at 3-3, at 40-40, she smiled at Serena's antics, obviously feeling satisfied that her tactics were working.

She then won a point after a long rally and then gestured dramatically to the fans to cheer for her also.

It was interesting. One player behaving as if she should not be in such a fight, as if she was ordained; and the other player fighting and enjoying every moment of the duel for the US Open title and the winner's prize money.

Vinci broke Williams by winning the next point, held serve at 5-3 and then held serve at love to create one of the biggest upsets in the history of the game.

"I don't want to talk about how disappointing it is for me," said Williams afterwards, the Grand Slam finalist on 25 occasions and winner 21 times, only one short of Graf.

"If you have any other questions, I'm open for that."

Vinci, however, who later lost to Pennetta in the final, was head over heels at her performance and had the 20,000-plus fans cracking up with laughter during post-match interview.

"How do you feel after such a historic performance?" she was asked before the fans, minutes after the Serena match.

"This is an amazing moment for me," said the 300-1 underdog. "I am in a dream, I beat Serena. I am in the final of the US Open."

"Did you have a plan for the match?"

"No. Just play. Don't think about Serena. Just enjoy yourself. Get the ball in court, and run, and run."

The next day, Vinci lost in the final in straight sets to Pennetta. She was not as tricky and not as good as she was against Williams. Probably she was not as motivated, or not as intoxicated as she was for the match of her life.

She lost easily. She was, however, still smiling and still laughing. She had defeated Williams, a champion, the champion and arguably the best of all time.

Vinci had her day in the sun. The day she defeated Serena Williams at the US Open, the day she will forever remember.

Sports fans, tennis fans especially, will never forget her, or her celebration as the miracle unfolded, both for her play, her tactics and for her wonderful words which followed her amazing upset.