NEW YORK — In an unlikely U.S. Open women’s singles final, No. 26 Flavia Pennetta beat fellow Italian Roberta Vinci, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2, to become the oldest first-time major champion in the Open era.
Then, during the post-match celebration, Pennetta announced one more surprise for the fans in Arthur Ashe Stadium: She was retiring from tennis at the end of this year.
“I need to say one thing more,” Pennetta, 33, said with tears in her eyes. “Before I started this tournament, like one month ago, I take a big decision on my life, and this is the way I would like to say goodbye to tennis.”
As the crowd reacted with gasps, Pennetta continued.
“I’m really happy. It’s what all the players think to want to do going out with this kind of big trophy,” she said.
While Vinci, 32, entered Saturday as the underdog story a day after ending No. 1 Serena Williams’s pursuit of a calendar Grand Slam, Pennetta knocked out the No. 2 and No. 5 seeds as well as No. 22 Samantha Stosur, the last woman not named Williams to win a title here, to get to the final.
After taking the first set in a tiebreak, Pennetta grabbed a 4-0 lead in the second, but Vinci battled back, breaking Pennetta and holding serve to cut the deficit to 4-2.
Pennetta then held serve before breaking Vinci at love on the strength of a backhand winner and overhead slam. She drilled a forehand winner on match point, then flung her racket into the air.
The first Italian U.S. Open champion then went to the net to embrace Vinci. Both smiled during an extended hug.
“Congratulations, well done,” Vinci said to Pennetta. “Enjoy.”
“I love you,” Pennetta told Vinci.
Then Pennetta broke the news of her plan to retire to Vinci.
“Che?” Vinci responded. “What?”
Vinci then told Pennetta that it was the perfect way to leave New York.
As teenagers, the two lived together in Rome for four years while training, and they played junior doubles together, winning the girls’ doubles at the French Open in 1999.
Pennetta said they first played each other at her country club in Brindis, Italy, when she was 9 years old.
“It’s magical because you have one of your best friends with you in this moment,” Pennetta said. “It’s amazing.”
Pennetta entered New York with a Grand Slam title in doubles from the 2011 Australian Open, but despite playing in her 49th major singles tournament, she had never advanced past the semifinals at a major in singles.
The previous oldest first-time Grand Slam winner in the Open era was fellow Italian Francesca Schiavone, who won the 2010 French Open a month before she turned 30. The Open era began in 1968.
Saturday’s win vaulted Pennetta to a career-high No. 8 in the world.
“Winning today, it’s — my life is perfect,” Pennetta said. “Perfect.”
With the Italian Prime Minister in attendance, both players dealt with the nerves of playing in their first career major final early on. Pennetta got the first break of the match, though she needed seven break-point opportunities before cashing in as Vinci made an unforced error.
Pennetta gave that advantage back a few games later, hitting a backhand into the net and tying the first set at four games apiece. Both players then held serve twice before Pennetta won the tiebreaker, which Vinci never led after earning the first point.
Afterward, Vinci said she could feel the emotional and physical effects of beating Williams.
“It was tough,” Vinci said. “I passed the 24 hours with a lot of things on my mind and I was a little bit tired also, especially in the first set. But, you know, I lost in the final. I’m really happy and really happy for Flavia.”
On the ESPN set following the match, Pennetta explained she had been considering retiring since the beginning of this year and made the decision to announce her retirement following the U.S. Open when she was in Toronto last month.
“Maybe that’s why I’m here today,” Pennetta said, explaining that she played every match over the last two weeks as if it could be her last at the U.S. Open.
Before announcing her retirement post-match, Pennetta told the crowd, “It’s a dream come true. I’m really happy. I don’t know what to say.”
When Pennetta continued by congratulating Vinci and giving her another embrace, the runner-up jokingly made a move toward the winner’s trophy, saying, “This is mine. I play good, no?”
The two laughed.