NEW YORK — Talk about going out on top: Flavia Pennetta won the U.S. Open on Saturday for her first Grand Slam title at age 33 then announced during the trophy ceremony she has decided to retire.
Pennetta did not have to beat Serena Williams in the final. Instead, she needed to get past the woman who ended Williams' Grand Slam bid, Roberta Vinci. And Pennetta was able to do just that, pulling away in a matchup of Italians who were opponents and doubles partners as kids.
In one of the unlikeliest major finals in women's tennis history, the 26th-seeded Pennetta beat unseeded Vinci 7-6 (7-4), 6-2, then revealed she was ready to hang up her racket, a decision she had kept private until that moment.
"This is how I say goodbye to tennis," Pennetta said as her fiance, tennis player Fabio Fognini, captured the scene with his phone's camera. "I couldn't think to finish in a better way."
That announcement served as a perfectly out-of-nowhere conclusion to a surprise-filled tournament, the biggest shock being Vinci's win against Williams in the semifinals Friday. That stopped Williams' 33-match winning streak in majors and her attempt to become the first player since Steffi Graf in 1988 to win all four Grand Slam tournaments in a year.
"I passed 24 hours with a lot of things on mind," Vinci said. "And I was a little bit tight, especially in the first set."
Pennetta is the oldest woman in the Open era, which began in 1968, to become a Grand Slam champion for the first time and the first Italian to win the U.S. Open.
This was the first major final for either participant, and the first time since WTA computer rankings were instituted in 1975 that both finalists were ranked outside the top 20 (Vinci is 43rd). Pennetta entered the tournament with a 17-15 record this season. Vinci was 20-20 in 2015 and 40-43 in majors for her career.
They grew up 40 miles apart in coastal towns in Puglia, a region in the heel of Italy's boot-shaped peninsula, and have been facing each other on court for two decades. They shared laughs and tears in the locker room Friday while watching a video of a TV interview they did in 1999, when they won the French Open junior doubles title as teenagers.
"It's tough," Vinci said, "to play against one player that you know (for a) long time."
"We know each other since forever," Pennetta said. "We spend so much time together, we could write a book about our lives."
Pennetta won by playing solidly and effectively using her best shot, a flat two-handed backhand. It helped that Vinci's volleys and backhand slice that were so effective against Williams were less reliable this time.
The Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd — some folks had paid top dollar for tickets, in anticipation of seeing Williams take aim at history — was rather quiet, especially in the opening set. Perhaps it was difficult to decide which relatively unknown woman to cheer for.
Now, though, Pennetta will always be known as a Grand Slam champion, even if she never wins — or even plays — another match.