US Open 2015: Flavia Pennetta has perfect New York exit as Little Italy booms again

Pennetta beat Roberta Vinci in the final

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After Flavia Pennetta’s 7-6, 6-2 victory over Roberta Vinci in the final of the US Open, the two Italians sat next to each other at the side of the court. They chatted and laughed, looking as if they had just won a match at their local club in Brindisi, where they first met at the age of nine.

Before the presentation ceremony, Pennetta whispered in her friend’s ear. “I told her, ‘Roberta, this is my last New York’. And she said, ‘Huh?’ I said, ‘Yes. It’s perfect’.”

Pennetta, who is one of the most popular figures on the women’s tour, revealed afterwards that she had been contemplating retirement for a while. At 33 years and six months she is the oldest first-time Grand Slam champion in the Open era.

“Sometimes it’s getting hard for me to compete,” she explained. “When you are on the court, when you have to play 24 weeks in the year, you have to fight every week. And if you don’t fight every week in the same way I did here, it’s going to be bad.

“Sometimes I don’t feel like I have this power. So this is the perfect moment, I think. It was a really hard decision to make, but I’m really happy that I did it. If I had dreamed about how I wanted to finish, this was the perfect way.”

Although the announcement on the day came as a surprise to many of those around her, Pennetta had already told her team, her family and her fiancé, the Italian player Fabio Fognini, of her decision to retire. She finally made up her mind at last month’s tournament in Toronto, although she had nearly quit earlier in the summer.

“I had a bad moment also at Roland Garros,” Pennetta said. “Three days before the tournament I was thinking of withdrawing. Then I kept just trying and fighting and everything was going pretty well.

“But when you start thinking too much about when you have to make a decision about whether to carry on or to stop, then you have to do it.

“Sometimes we are more scared to take the decision because we don’t know what we want or what we’re going to do afterwards, how life is going to be after we have retired. But I think it’s going to be a pretty good life.

“I’m really proud of myself. I think I did everything that I expected of myself. More. Much more.”

Pennetta said she had  chatted with Vinci in the gym before the final. “We said, ‘It doesn’t matter [who wins]. We’re going to win. It’s going to be a really big win for both of us’.”

Vinci, who shared a house in Rome with Pennetta for three years, admitted it had felt “strange” to play her friend in a first Grand Slam final for both women.

“It was difficult mentally for both of us,” she said. “But I’m really happy, even though I lost. I’m happy that one Italian player won a Grand Slam.”

She added: “I love New York. Today probably this is my last cheeseburger. And then tomorrow pasta, real pasta, at home.”

Saturday’s final crowned a remarkable era for Italian women’s tennis. Francesca Schiavone won the French Open in 2010 and was runner-up in 2011, as was Sara Errani the following year. Errani and Vinci have won five Grand Slam doubles titles together, Pennetta won the Australian Open doubles with Argentine Gisela Dulko and Italy have won the Fed Cup four times in the last 10 years.

The final here was attended by the country’s prime minister, Matteo Renzi, who was heavily criticised at home for cancelling appointments in order to come.

Pennetta said Schiavone had left voicemail messages for both her and Vinci the day before the final. “She started to laugh,” Pennetta said. “She said, ‘Ha ha, now it’s your turn. Breathe. You have to go to the toilet, eh, so many times’?”