There was one thing for sure about Saturday's women's final at the U.S. Open -- an Italian would win it.
With Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi watching from a suite in Arthur Ashe Stadium, Flavia Pennetta defeated countrywoman Roberta Vinci for her first Grand Slam title, and her last.
The final score, 7-6 (4), 6-2 retired.
Yes, retired. Pennetta announced at the award ceremony that this would be her last U.S. Open and her last season. The 33-year-old, who had never been to a Grand Slam final before, won a strategically played match in which she outlasted her long time friend Vinci, who at 32 was also playing her first Slam final.
With a smile and sense of contentment, Pennetta, who became the oldest first time Grand Slam champion, said that the decision to retire at the apex of her career was the right thing.
"Because sometimes it's getting hard for me to compete. This is the important point," said Pennetta, who earned a nice retirement check of $3.3 million for competing so well here. "So this is the perfect moment, I think. Was a really hard decision to make, but I'm really happy I did it. I'm really happy and proud of myself."
As for finally winning a Grand Slam, and doing it against an Italian, a colleague, she said: "Like we said before the match, what we say doesn't matter. We're gonna win. It's going to be big win for both of us . . . It's something amazing, something I didn't think to be here. She didn't think either to be here. So it's amazing for our country, is amazing for everyone."
This was a championship that went from Serena to serene. After Vinci shockingly knocked out No. 1 Serena Williams in the semifinals on Friday in one of the greatest upsets in tennis history, which followed Pennetta's surprising ouster of No. 2 Simona Halep, gone were the booming serves, the reverberating forehands, the guttural exchange of strokes between Williams and an opponent such as Victoria Azarenka.
It was a throwback match, a return to tennis of 30 and 40 years ago. Think of Chris Evert playing Evonne Goolagong -- with wooden rackets and white skirts. In the place of nuclear serves and thundering groundstrokes, Pennetta and Vinci played cunning, chess-like tennis, the sounds from their physical effort almost kittenish. Their play was all about constructing points, finding angles, waiting for openings. Pennetta had more pop from the baseline, Vinci, with a one- handed backhand, was deft at the net. It was charming tennis, not jarring tennis.
The first set was tight, if not all that tense. Pennetta had broken Vinci early, then Vinci got it back to send the set to a tiebreak. Pennetta went up early in the tiebreak and closed it out with ease.
She then broke Vinci on her first two serves of the second set, and although Vinci managed to recover a break, she never seriously challenged after that and was broken in the eighth game to give Pennetta the crown.
"I was tired, especially the first set," Vinci said. "She was more solid than me and she play much better backhand, and she served better than me today."
Vinci struggled to find the words to describe her experience in her first slam final. "I don't know. Maybe you tell me this question in more days, I can tell you . . . but I'm really happy, even when I lost."
She was certain about two things:
One, "I think it's an incredible moment for all Italian people."
Two, "Miracles can happen. Because I beat Serena, miracle."