A few thoughts on the outstanding match we just were witnessed to:
Viva Vinci - The unseeded Italian playing in her first grand slam singles semifinal left nothing on the court. Let's give credit where credit is due here. Vinci played an outstanding match...as she stated in her on court post-match interview "The match of her career". When Serena dominated the opening set, everyone thought this was a done deal. Great for Vinci making the SF but Serena is on her way. In fact many started already planning the calendar grand slam victory party. Everyone but Vinci....and perhaps Pennetta. Vinci regained focus in the second set and outplayed Serena. With the match level, she didn't wilt under the pressure of a 3rd set. She broke Serena when it mattered, held her serve when it counted and played a smart, strategic set. She moved, she came to the net, she picked her spots on the court and went shot for shot against her much stronger and larger opponent. Vinci entered the US Open as the 43-ranked player on tour who's best grand slam singles result was the QF at the US Open (2012, 2013). Collectively amongst all the majors, her career record was 40-43 entering this event. This was a David vs Goliath story....and David proved upsets can happen.
Stats Don't Lie - The talk heading into the US Open was Serena's biggest opponent would be Serena. This match only supported this rationale. Serena blasted 50 winners in the match but it was the 40 unforced errors that were her downfall. Unforced errors happen, sure. But Serena's came at times when we expect her to hit the big winner not the wide out or long shot. Another telling sign was second serve points won. Serena managed to win only 45% of those points. Vinci cracked home 51% of second serve points. Serena normally can pounce all over an opponents second serve but not today. Vinci was ready and, even though her average second serve is only 78 mph, she was still able to win 51% of those points. When Serena is in her prime, she usually dominated a slower second serve. On the flip side, Serena's second serve averages 85 mph and Vinci was up to convert those serves into winnable points. People can talk about Serena mentally lost focus but the stats show Vinci capitalized on her opportunities.
History Repeating - No I am not talking about the calendar grand slam, unfortunately that bit of history is gone...or at least on hold perhaps. The history I am speaking of is Serena's struggle with mid-rank opponents. She dominates the top ranked players on tour week in and week out but it has always been the mid-ranked players who Serena struggles with. Just look at her losses at Grand Slam events since 2013: Alize Cornet (R3, 14 Wimbledon), Garbine Muguruza (R2, 14 French Open), Ana Ivanovic (R4, 14 Australian Open), Sabine Lisicki (R4, 13 Wimbledon) and Sloane Stephens (QF, 13 Australian Open). With the exception of Ivanovic, none have one a grand slam. In fact, at the time of these losses, all of the players were seeded #14 or lower and, in two cases (Muguruza, Vinci), the players were unseeded. Talk has always been Serena is prime for an upset in the early rounds but usually turns it on once she makes the QF or better. Today, the history of mid-ranked players continued to haunt Serena. The way she elevates her play and game against the top ranked players, she needs to be able to do that on a more consistent basis against the mid-level players who have less pressure and less to lose when they battle her.
Biggest Upset Ever? - This is a tough one to call. The US men's hockey "Miracle on Ice" in 1980, Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson and Villanova upsetting Georgetown in the 1985 NCAA Championship game are all massive upsets. But I do think this upset rivals the greatest upset in sports, the New York Giants denying the New England Patriots an undefeated season with the shock Super Bowl XLII win. The Patriots were undefeated heading into the game and huge favorites. Serena was undefeated at the past 4 majors and a huge favorite (rumors even of Vinci being a 300-1 underdog for the match...later proved incorrect mind you). Both are epic upsets but I think Vinci's win today surpasses the Giants win. Football is a team sport. Tennis is individual (minus doubles I know). Vinci was on the court alone. In front of a very pro-Serena, American crowd. Nobody believed in her. Nobody was cheering for her. Everyone wanted the Serena Slam. Now lets be fair to Vinci here. She has a career grand slam of her own, in women's doubles. In fact she is a 5-time grand slam women's doubles champion. The pressure of playing late rounds in a grand slam is not completely foreign to her. However, imagine all of that pressure on your shoulders...as a singles player...alone on the court. She carried the underdog weight into the match and focused on herself. Like she said in her on court interview when asked if she was thinking about Serena on the other side of the net "I was thinking just keep the ball in court and run fast". A simple game plan. One where she focused solely on her side of the net and what she could control. The player comparisons, the grand slam profiles, the rankings, the prize money won, the career record...everything was one-sided towards a Serena win. Everything except the heart and mind of the fiesty Italian.
So what do we do now? My suggestion is rather than wallow in history being denied to us, let's celebrate the accomplishments of two players vying for their first Grand Slam singles final. Get out the red, white and green and celebrate the triumphs of the first-ever All-Italian Grand Slam final. Let Roberta Vinci and Flavia Pennetta have their moment, they deserve it. Tomorrow, rather than talk about the missed opportunities, why not focus on the positive possibilities of the two players on the court!