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Roberta Vinci, the Joyous Unknown Who Stunned Serena Williams, Denied History

Published by Bleacher Report on Sat, 12 Sep 2015


NEW YORKShe was all disbelief and smiles, but not before shedding a few tears after dispatching the worlds No. 1 female tennis player and the thought, now erased, of a rare Grand Slam.Roberta Vinci, who didnt even know what the word upset meant until it was translated into Italian, produced one of the bigger upsets ever in her sport, maybe the single biggest.After three long sets, she'd beaten the worlds No. 1, the woman who was two matches from the first calendar Grand Slam in a quarter century, the woman from whom shed never taken a set in four previous matches,Serena Williams.Then in a post-match interview on-court, and on national television, she became a joyous expression of what the sport is all about: a virtually unknown athlete who has accomplished the seemingly impossible and making us appreciate it as much as she did.With a supposed 300-1 shot to win the tournament, the unseeded Vincistunned Williams, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4,Fridayin their U.S. Open semifinal. She also stunned the crowd of more than 22,0000 at Arthur Ashe Stadium and seemingly stunned herself.Sorry, she to the crowd and TV audience. Sorry for American people, for Serena, for the Grand Slam, but todays my day.And in her few minutes of raw, heartfelt emotion, one thing was apparent. She'd not only won the match, but also won fans across the globe.In classic body language, she raised both arms and shouted, Sorry, guys, and as the appreciative fans roared, she held her hands up to her ears.There was nothing to be sorry about. At 32, a journeyman, Vinci, so adept, so charming, so unpretentious, had the opportunity of her life and with a beautiful display of drop shots and service returns, made use of the opportunity.She turned Williams into a loser the first time in 37 matches in Slam tournaments and turned herself into an instant hit, as much through her comments as her play.Sometimes, she said almost apologetically, a miracle happens.Sometimes a 32-year-old who is a doubles specialist defies even her own concepts along with ours. When asked by ESPN's Tom Rinaldi if she thought the moment was possible, she answered with a head shake and said, No.That is hardly the sort of humble honesty most athletes provide in their post-mortems. There was no overconfidence but plenty of elation from a genuine competitor who, in the first major final of her lifeon Saturday,faces another Italian shes known since they were preteens, Flavia Pennetta, 33.They grew up 45 miles apart near Puglia, Italy."We'll be as tight as violin strings, both of us," Vinci said.She gave a thumbs up while noting "an Italian wins, for sure," then pointed to her chest and whispered in Italian, "Me, let's hope."She said as the match against Williams moved along, Vinci taking the second set, she didnt think about winning or even think about who was on the other side of the net.My mind is just to put the ball on the court, said Vinci, whose highest ranking ever was 11th in 2013. I try to enjoy the match. I didnt expect that I would win. I dont think a lot. Then I won. It is amazing moment. It is like a dream.For Williams, who had won four straight major championshipsbut not the true Grand Slam in one calendar year, which no one has taken since Steffi Graf in 1988if its not a nightmare, its frustrating. Vinci understands. Suddenly shes the villain in this drama, if the unintentional one.Im really happy, said Vinci, but of course Im a little bit really sad for Serena because she is an incredible player, No. 1, almost careerall the Grand Slams. But tough to explain my emotion right now. Maybetomorrowmorning I can tell you something, but right now is amazing. You work so hard for a long time, and its incredible.Vinci sensed Williams was nervous, that the pressure of the weeks from the Australian to the French to Wimbledon to this 2015 U.S. Open was having an effect on her opponent.I think a lot, said a candid Vinci. She broke a racket at the end of second set when I won and also she make two double faults I think, three-all, love-15. I dont remember, but two.She remembers, but she chooses to remember her own play, which deserves recognition. Unfortunately, because of the setting and the effect of the outcome, the match will be known as one Williams lost rather than one Vinci won.Vinci is only the second unseeded player to beat Williams at the U.S. Open, the first being Kim Clijsters in 2009. Her record fell to 44-2.Its tough to explain, Vinci said of the result. Because I dont have manymaybe in Italian the words that can explain really, because its amazing. Maybe if (onThursday) told me, Tomorrowyou can win against Serena. I called my travel agency to say, OK, book me a flight, because you know...'No, we didnt know. And neither did Vinci, whos as sparkling as a bottle of Pellegrino.I feel good right now,she said hoisting a hand upward. Maybe touch the sky with my finger.Or no less, touch our hearts with her personality. She understands tennis is a game, not life. And for the Italian firecracker who shocked the world, life, right now, is beautiful.ArtSpander, an award-winning columnist, has covered more than 50 Grand Slams in his career. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
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