Friday, September 11, 2015

Veni, vidi, Vinci: Serena's bid for Slam ends

Serena Williams, shown in March, lost to unseeded Roberta
Vinci of Italy today in one of the biggest upsets in sports his-
tory. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Pressure and a crafty opponent finally got to Serena Williams.
   Roberta Vinci pulled off one of the biggest upsets in sports history today, ending Williams' bid for the first calendar-year Grand Slam since Steffi Graf's in 1988.
   The unseeded Vinci, playing in her first major semifinal at age 32, shocked the top-ranked Williams, who has won 21 Grand Slam singles titles, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 in the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
   Vinci had not won more than four games in a set in four matches against Williams. Afterward, in an on-court interview, ESPN's Tom Rinaldi told Vinci that she was a 300-1 long shot. In comparison, Buster Douglas was a 42-1 underdog when he knocked out Mike Tyson in Tokyo in 1990 in one of the biggest shockers ever.
   Rinaldi asked Vinci on the court what she thought made it possible when she woke up today to beat Williams.
   Replied the engaging Italian: "When I woke up today, I said, 'You're in the semifinals of the U.S. Open. Try to enjoy.' I don't think about (playing) Serena. But to win? No."
    Vinci apologized to Williams afterward. Why, asked Rinaldi?
   "For the American people, for Serena, the Grand Slam, everything," she said. "But today's my day. Sorry, guys."
   Williams, who will turn 34 on Sept. 26, was trying to tie Graf with 22 Grand Slam singles titles, second all-time behind Margaret Court's 24.
   Williams had won 11 three-set matches in majors this year, including two in the U.S. Open, and four consecutive Grand Slam titles.
   She led 2-0 in the third set against Vinci but double-faulted on break point in the next game. Williams double-faulted again when Vinci broke for 4-3.
   "I never felt that pressure to win here," insisted Williams, who earlier in the summer announced that she would no longer answer questions about her Grand Slam quest. "I said that from the beginning." 
   ESPN commentator and tennis legend Chris Evert saw it otherwise.
   "I saw a frozen, paralyzed Serena Williams," Evert said with her usual candor. "She succumbed to nerves. She's human."
   After Vinci broke serve for 4-3 in the third set, ESPN's Mary Joe Fernandez noted: "She's playing such a clever match. She's taking advantage of (Williams') nerves. She's sliced, diced and drop-shotted. ... She's made Serena hit that extra shot."
   And, in an impressive display of composure, Vinci served out the match at love. A lesser player would have crumbled and let Williams back in the match.
   Although Vinci is ranked 43rd in the world in singles, she didn't exactly come out of nowhere.
   Vinci has been ranked as high as No. 11 in singles and No. 1 in doubles. She owns a career Grand Slam in women's doubles with five major titles overall.
   Vinci's victory overshadowed another shocker as No. 26 seed Flavia Pennetta, another Italian, dispatched No. 2 Simona Halep of Romania 6-1, 6-3 in 59 minutes. Pennetta, 33, also will play in her maiden Grand Slam final (Saturday at noon PDT, ESPN), and it will be the first all-Italian final in a major.
   Vinci and Pennetta grew up 38 miles (61.2 kilometers) apart in southern Italy and have known each other since they were children.  
   Pennetta leads Vinci 5-4 in the head-to-head series, but they are 1-1 on hardcourts. In their last meeting, Pennetta won 6-4, 6-1 in the quarterfinals of the 2013 U.S. Open.
   Pennetta also has a psychological advantage, as Vinci has only 24 hours to refocus after what she called "the best moment of my life."
   Oh, yeah. Then came the men's semifinals.
   No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic and No. 2 Roger Federer set up a blockbuster final with easy victories.
   Djokovic trounced No. 9 Marin Cilic, the defending champion, 6-0, 6-1, 6-2 in the most lopsided semifinal in New York in the Open era, which began in 1968. Cilic was hampered by a twisted right ankle, which he suffered in the fourth round.
   Federer whipped his Swiss Davis Cup teammate, fifth-seeded Stan Wawrinka, 6-4, 6-3, 6-1 to reach his first U.S. Open final since 2009. Federer, 34, has not lost a set in the tournament.
   Djokovic and Federer will meet on Sunday (1 p.m. PDT, ESPN) for the 42nd time, tying Djokovic-Rafael Nadal for the most in the Open era. Federer leads the series 21-20 after winning their most recent encounter, 7-6 (1), 6-3 last month on a hardcourt in the Cincinnati final.
   Northern California connection -- Fourth-seeded Martina Hingis of Switzerland and Leander Paes of India edged unseeded Bethanie-Mattek Sands of Phoenix and Sam Querrey, a San Francisco native living in Las Vegas, 6-4, 3-6 [10-7] for the mixed doubles title.
   As Williams did, Hingis and the 42-year-old Paes won three of the four Slams this year. They took the Australian Open and Wimbledon mixed doubles crowns but lost in the second round of the French Open to Katarina Srebotnik of Slovenia and Horia Tecau of Romania. The winners of that tournament? Mattek-Sands and former Stanford star Mike Bryan.
   Querrey, who will turn 28 on Oct. 7, was playing in his first Grand Slam final. He reached the men's doubles semifinals in the U.S. Open with Southern California native Steve Johnson.
   In the American Collegiate Invitational, No. 2 seed Mackenzie McDonald of Piedmont in the San Francisco Bay Area reached the men's final. McDonald, a junior at UCLA, routed No. 3 Thai-Son Kwiatkowski, a junior at reigning NCAA champion Virginia, 6-2, 6-2.
   McDonald will face No. 4 Gonzales Austin, a recent Vanderbilt graduate who nipped No. 1 Ryan Shane, the NCAA singles champion from Virginia, 3-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (6). 

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