Flavia Pennetta plans to retire at year’s end after upstaging fellow Italian Roberta Vinci in the US Open final to become the oldest first-time women’s grand slam champion in professional tennis history.
In one of most unlikely championship deciders ever, 33-year-old Pennetta took the spoils with a 7-6 (7-4) 6-2 victory at Flushing Meadows on Saturday.
Glory in the first all-Italian grand slam final crowned a remarkable comeback after Pennetta had pondered retirement last year while battling a debilitating wrist injury.
But set to rise to a career-high ranking inside the top 10 next week, Pennetta stunned the tennis world after accepting her most prestigious trophy yet.
“This is the way I would like to say goodbye to tennis,” Pennetta said after revealing she made the decision to walk away three weeks ago.
“I’m really happy. It is what all the players want to do, going out with this big trophy (to take) home.
“So this one was my last match in the US Open and I couldn’t think of a better way to end my career.”
“It’s a dream come true. Growing up I always wanted to be world No.1 and to win a grand slam.”
Pennetta had been a 150-1 long shot to win the title.
“Before this tournament I never think to be so far,” she said after joining 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone as the second Italian to win a grand slam singles crown.
“I never think to be a champion. When things come like this it’s a big surprise to me.”
The Fed Cup teammates and former doubles partners warmly embraced at the net before Pennetta celebrated her triumph with her entourage including boyfriend Fabio Fognini, the third-round conqueror of former men’s champion Rafael Nadal.
In addition to becoming the third-oldest grand slam champion behind all-time greats Martina Navratilova and Serena Williams in the 47-year open era, Pennetta set new standards for patience.
Contesting her 49th career major, no woman has waited longer to break through at a grand slam.
The 26th seed took out Australians Jarmila Gajdosova and 2011 champion Samantha Stosur en route to the title, her 11th in a career previously highlighted by a stint as the world’s top-ranked doubles player.
The 43-ranked Vinci, also a former No.1 doubles player, was unable to follow up her spectacular semi-final defeat of world No.1 and grand slam chaser Serena Williams, the 32-year-old’s challenge ending in one hour and 33 minutes at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
But she was full of praise for her lifelong friend, who Vinci first started playing at the age of nine.
“I’m really happy and really happy for Flavia,” Vinci said.
“It’s tough to play against one player that you’ve known for a long time.
“It was a tough day, but I tried to do my best, but Flavia played unbelievable today. Great match, so I have to say just congrats to her.”
The title match also featured the oldest two first-time grand slam finalists.
The pair traded service breaks in the sixth and eighth games before Pennetta claimed the first set in a tiebreaker.
Pennetta, who’d won both her previous grand slam encounters with Vinci and enjoyed a 5-4 head-to-head edge overall entering the final, powered to a 4-0 lead second set before breaking her good friend for a fourth time to reign as the queen of Queens.