The people who created 401ks thought they were so smart with their retirement plan. They can’t hold a candle to Flavia Pennetta’s, either in substance or style.
The 33-year-old won the U.S. Open women’s singles here Saturday, playing before a crowd of 23,771 in the largest tennis stadium in the world and beating her long-time friend, Roberta Vinci, 7-6 (4), 6-2.
Then she was handed a trophy that is greatly treasured by all who play the sport. Next she was handed the winner’s check of $3.3 million. Even then, she was able to top all that with her own announcement.
“One more thing,” she said, as the awards ceremony was about to end. Then she told the world this was it, there was no better way and time than now to take the big trophy home and retire.
She will play a few more events until the end of the year, but no more majors. The Big Apple was her last major tennis bite, and she had found a spectacular way to spread the news.
“With this win today,” she said, “my life is perfect.”
Talk about living happily ever after. This was the storybook retirement, after a storybook ending.
The women’s U.S. Open draw was a fascination from its opening day. It began as a step-by-step canonization of Serena Williams, presumably en route to a 2015 Grand Slam. It ended with massive Arthur Ashe Stadium turning into Little Italy.
Pennetta is from Brindisi, Italy; Vinci from about 50 miles away in Taranto.
Their U.S. Open final matchup brought Italian dignitaries and officials flocking to the place. The prime minister flew in, along with the head of the country’s Olympic committee. The Italian ambassador to the U.S. was there. The only big shot missing was the Pope. Maybe he’s a golfer.
The tournament was marketed and branded for the Serena Williams story. In the end, it got an even better one, another “sisters” tale.
Pennetta said during the awards ceremony that she and Vinci had been playing each other since they were 9 years old. She said later they had moved together to Rome in their early teens and had been roommates for four years, while being developed by the Italian Tennis Federation.
When Saturday’s match ended, and officials were setting up all the props and microphones, there was a most unusual sight. The two finalists sat side-by-side, chatting away as if they were at Starbucks, not as if they had just finished competing for one of the more prestigious sports titles in the world.
If you have ever seen that before, after a Grand Slam final, send pictures.
“I told her that I love her like you love a girlfriend,” Pennetta said in an interview with ESPN afterward. Then she said she told Vinci she was going to announce to the crowd that she is retiring.
Tennis has become so competitive, such a big-money game and so cutthroat that the sort of scene and joy-sharing shown by the two Italian women is rare.
Pennetta told a story of the pair sitting down for a chat before the match.
“Boris Becker walked by,” she said, “and looked at us kind of funny and said, ‘Do you know you two are going to play each other?’ ”
Vinci, at 32 a year younger and well known on the tour as a doubles player — she was once No. 1 in the world in doubles — played the tennis match heard ‘round the world 24 hours earlier.
She beat Williams in a three-set thriller, stopping the Grand Slam quest on its penultimate step. A day of pondering the place in sports-upset history of that match did not reduce its impact. If this had been boxing, it would have been Buster Douglas beating Mike Tyson.
Pennetta, watching in the locker room after having finished her semifinal match, cried with joy for her friend. On court, Vinci, in delightful broken English, took an admiring, but stunned, Serena Williams home crowd and charmed it in less than a minute.
Vinci is a tiny woman, 5-foot-4 and 130 pounds. After seven rounds of singles in a Grand Slam, she’s probably closer to 120. Pennetta is four inches taller, but is listed as even lighter than Vinci.
Pennetta’s presence in a major final was less stunning than Vinci’s. Pennetta previously had been to a semifinal here and four other quarterfinals, all here. Vinci hadn’t even gotten out of the second round of a major this year.
Pennetta said she knew Vinci was tired Saturday, and Vinci agreed afterward. That showed most clearly in the first-set tiebreaker, in which five of Pennetta’s points came from Vinci’s errors.
When Pennetta got it to 5-2 on Vinci’s serve in the second set, it started to sprinkle. Vinci was asked whether she was hoping for a rain delay. She shrugged and said, “I was down, 5-2, love 30, so I say, two more points…"
Pennetta said she shared her retirement announcement with no one but her team, her family “and Fabio.”
Fabio Fognini is the Italian player who shook the men’s draw with his late-night upset of Rafael Nadal last week. He is Pennetta’s boyfriend.
Any marriage plans, she was asked?
“No,” she said, smiling. “Not yet.”
The bride pays. Even in retirement, Pennetta can afford it.