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Pennetta Wins Her First Grand Slam, Then Calls It Her Last

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

For tennis fans, today's men's U.S. Open tennis championship is a dream match. It pits the two best players in the world - Novak Djokavic and Roger Federer. The women's competition ended yesterday, and there was no Grand Slam coronation for Serena Williams. She lost Friday. Instead, 33-year-old Flavia Pennetta wears the crown after winning an American championship that had a distinctly Italian flavor. From New York, NPR's Tom Goldman has our report.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: We don't have a record of the moment, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that when Flavia Pennetta and Roberta Vinci, both about 9 years old, first played against each other in a country club in Brindisi, Italy, their post-match conversation did not include the following statement - see you in the U.S. Open final in 24 years.

But there they were, the young kids who became friends, and doubles partners and roommates for a few years, slugging it out in Arthur Ashe Stadium, for supremacy of women's tennis for the glory of Italy. Don't think it meant a lot to their native country? Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was there, so was Italo DiModica. Not a dignitary - he works for the New York City Transit Authority - but a man of Italian heritage whose pride was bubbling over.

ITALO DIMODICA: (Speaking Italian).

GOLDMAN: And what did that mean?

DIMODICA: Thank you for the memories and good luck for everything.

GOLDMAN: With one final forehand drive, Pennetta sealed her memory of a lifetime. She won 7-6, 6-2, her all-around game - ground strokes, net play, court coverage, serve - was good enough, she said afterwards - good, not great.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FLAVIA PENNETTA: I didn't play my best tennis today. I have to say I was scared (laughter) inside from the beginning. It was not easy for me to hit the ball in the same way that I did yesterday.

GOLDMAN: That was Friday, when Pennetta easily beat number two seed Simona Halep, an impressive win that was all but forgotten after Vinci's upset for the ages over Serena Williams. For all the crazy glory of that Grand Slam-foiling win, Vinci says it took its toll in the final.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROBERTA VINCI: I was tired. I was tired, especially the first set.

GOLDMAN: Understandable, considering the emotional experience just 24 hours before - the win over Williams and the endearing on-court interview right after that turned tennis fans into Roberta Vinci fans.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VINCI: Then the person say, congratulations, good job. 'Cause I beat Serena? No, for your interview. Ah, grazie. OK.

GOLDMAN: But Saturday, the kudos were for Pennetta, on a great tournament and surprisingly, a great career. After getting the winner's trophy, she sprang this on the crowd.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PENNETTA: And this is the way I would like to say goodbye to tennis.

GOLDMAN: Pennetta announced a kind of rolling retirement. She said it's her last U.S. Open, adding later she'll play until the end of the year. After nearly 15 years as a pro, Pennetta said, it's getting hard to compete. I don't feel like I have the power anymore. Certainly, it took all she had Saturday to beat an opponent who Pennetta calls her sister. But after their warm embrace at net, followed by a trophy, a $3.3 million check and congrats from the prime minister, the power was all hers. As she said, my life is perfect. Tom Goldman, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.