Veni, Vidi, Vinci: Serena stunningly conquered

Roberta Vinci, of Italy, left, greets Serena Williams after winning their semifinal match at the U.S. Open tennis tournament, Friday, Sept. 11, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

It’s a city of disbelief.

How could this happen? Serena Williams losing to an unseeded 32-year-old?

What?

It was that bad. Everyone had taken for granted that Serena would destroy doubles standout Roberta Vinci. Even Vinci hinted that she believed that would be the case.

Of course, that didn’t happen. At some point, the 43rd-ranked Vinci decided to go to war with Serena.

Vinci came to play. Serena didn’t. She obviously wasn’t expecting a war to break out.

It wasn’t that Serena didn’t fight until the end. She did, but although she later emphasized that she didn’t feel the pressure except on a couple of shots, she certainly didn’t maintain her focus through the second and third sets of her 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 loss to Vinci in the U.S. Open semifinals on Friday.

It didn’t end there. Serena supporters were giving away tickets to Saturday’s final. High-priced ones too. Of course, there are no cheap tickets to a Grand Slam tournament final.

The Nightmare at Flushing was real. There would be no Serena Grand Slam.

At least, not this year.

There were plenty of empty seats in the largest tennis stadium in the world on Saturday when Flavia Pennetta posted a 7-6, 6-2 win over Vinci in the battle of Italians final.

This was more like the caliber of match you might expect to see in the opening round of the Volvo Cars Open. Great tennis, but not Grand Slam final quality.

Even at 33 years old, Serena is so far superior to the rest of the women’s game that you can’t rule out the same setting reoccurring at the final Grand Slam event of 2016.

It all depends on if Serena sets her mind on the challenge.

She may, and if she does, it’s possible. This time was different. As bad as Vinci wanted to see Serena win the Grand Slam, she wanted to win more.

“I’m a little bit really sad for Serena,” Vinci said afterward.

When the match was on the line, Vinci resorted to league tennis tactics, lob after lob. Whatever would win the point. It didn’t matter.

Vinci just wanted to be the one to put the last ball in play on every point ... and then the match.

Mission accomplished. “She did not want to lose today. Neither did I, incidentally,” Serena assured.

Serena committed errors on the easiest of shots, and hit winners on the most difficult.

This isn’t to say Vinci didn’t deserve to win. She did.

From lobs to whatever it took to get the job done. The scrappy little (5-4) Italian made marvelous gets, wonderful slice backhands and best of all brilliant half volleys. For good measure in her last love service game, she came up with a pair of extraordinary half volleys, one off the forehand and one off the backhand.

It was difficult to watch Serena the last few games as she fought with a vengeance, practically stumbling as she lunged for ball after ball. She would not give up, not until Vinci came up with the delicate forehand half volley that ended the misery.

“I never felt pressure,” Serena assured.

It will be interesting to see how long Serena really wants to go through this type of agony in the future. Then again, she might decide that she has nothing to lose. And she doesn’t.

What happened Friday afternoon at Arthur Ashe Stadium doesn’t change anything as far as to where Serena Williams ranks on the list of all-time greats.

She’s still at the top of the list.

“I did win three Grand Slams this year,” Serena said. “Yeah, I won four in a row. It’s pretty good.”

Reach James Beck at jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. See his latest columns on Grand Slam Tennis at www.ubitennis.com/english