The Calendar Slam will have to wait. Entering Friday's semifinal match at the US Open, Serena Williams was just two victories away from capturing a 2015 Grand Slam. However, in one of this millennium’s biggest upsets in sports, Italian veteran Roberta Vinci proved to be too much for Williams as she upset the World No. 1 in three thrilling sets to move on to this year’s final.
Vinci wasn't the only Italian to bring surprise into the semifinal round. Flavia Pennetta, also from Italy, upset No. 2 Simona Halep in straight sets. It will be the first time that two Italians have ever advanced to a Grand Slam singles final.
Believe it or not, three out of the last four women in the semifinals this year were age 32 and above. Thirty-three year old Pennetta overpowered the young 23-year-old Halep, and the 32-year-old Vinci was in-Vinci-ble against 33-year-old Williams. It’s been a huge win for the veterans at this year’s US Open and it’s a pleasant surprise to see two underdogs make it all the way to this level.
Now that the stage is set, let's get down to the details. It will be the tenth time that these two have met. Pennetta leads their head-to-head series slightly at 5-4, but they are even at 1-1 on hard courts. It’s important not to look too much into this record as it was back in 2013 when they last played each other. Today they are completely different players. Both are playing the best tennis of their careers and they both have an equal chance of beating one another.
Going into the match, Vinci will be the fresher of the two despite her only having two matches that didn’t go three sets. Pennetta on the other hand has played one more singles set than Vinci and has also gone further in the women’s doubles event, losing in the semifinals as opposed to Vinci who lost her doubles match in the third round. Nevertheless, after engineering spectacular upsets in both their semifinals matches we think both will be physically prepared to go the distance in the final.
Pennetta’s road to the final has been more challenging than Vinci’s as she’s had to dismantle three ranked players: Samantha Stosur, Petra Kvitova and Simona Halep. Vinci on the other hand has only faced one, Serena Williams. An enormous amount of credit is due for solving the incredible game of Serena Williams, but it is important to notice that Vinci might just have been on the receiving end of nervous play from World No. 1 given the magnitude of the Calendar Slam situation.
Before we jump too quickly to conclusions and take Pennetta as our favorite to win here we must try to understand what it was that allowed Vinci to beat Williams since Pennetta will look to inflict the same type of power stroking as World No.1. The most effective shot against Williams by far was Vinci’s slice backhand. Ironically for Williams it’s a shot that hasn’t been used frequently on the WTA since Steffi Graf was on tour (last person to win a Calendar Slam). Vinci’s implementation of the shot allows her to cleverly use it offensively and defensively with great effectiveness. The shot itself changes the flow of a point by keeping the ball aggressively low or by withstanding powerful strikers to approach soon after they hit high-powered shots. After you combine this with Vinci’s powerful forehand and elite net game it can be extremely difficult to beat her.
This is exactly the play she would need to employ against Pennetta to win her first US Open. It’s easier said than done as Pennetta should be familiar with her countrywoman’s tactics, but it’s exactly the style of play that can build on the nerves of being in your first Grand Slam event final. For Pennetta she should do her best to attack Vinci’s forehand in hopes of removing any chance of Vinci finding rhythm with her slice backhand. If she can keep the points short and avoid long rallies she should be able to keep her focus.
How They Got Here
- First round: def. Vania King 6-4, 6-4
- Second round: def. Denisa Allertova 2-6, 6-3, 6-1
- Third round: def. Mariana Duque Marino 6-1, 5-7, 6-2
- Fourth round: def. Eugenie Bouchard - Walkover
- Quarterfinals: def Kristina Mladenovic 6-3, 5-7, 6-4
- Semifinals: def. Serena Williams 2-6, 6-4, 6-4
- First round: Jarmila Gajdosova 6-1, 3-6, 6-1
- Second round: def. Monica Niculescu 6-1, 6-4
- Third round: def. Petra Cetkovska 1-6, 6-1, 6-4
- Fourth round: def. Samantha Stosur 6-4, 6-4
- Quarterfinals: def. Petra Kvitova 4-6, 6-4, 6-2
- Semifinals: def. Simona Halep 6-1, 6-3
After reviewing the odds on the match it’s too hard for us to make a call on exact games, sets, or correct scores since the historical stats for these two is dated and inconsistent. That being the case we like the odds on taking Roberta Vinci to win outright. After railing Serena Williams out of the tournament we can’t see an easy win for Pennetta and while Vinci might end up losing in the end she’s already proven she’s capable of beating anybody.
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