This year’s U.S. Open Tennis Championships were full of intrigue and suspense as the world converged on New York City to see if the greatest female tennis player of all time, Serena Williams, could cement that legacy by winning the calendar Grand Slam and tie Steffi Graf’s record for Grand Slam titles. As it turned out, we were not the only ones nervous.
Williams began the tournament with a 20-minute outing against Russian Vitalia Diatchenko, who just could not move having injured her ankle in warm-ups. Trouble started to show in the second round as Serena lost the feel for her serve, the single greatest shot in the game. It was a tough 7-6, 6-3 win over Kiki Bertens. Afterward she skipped the post-match press conference to go straight to the practice court, working on the serve.
The third round saw her take on American veteran Bethanie Mattek-Sands, a Grand Slam doubles champion. Williams dropped the first set, still struggling with her game. However, as has been her trademark all year, she came back—taking the final eight games of the 3-6, 7-5, 6-0 win. The Round of 16 saw a match against the woman thought to be the next great American star, Madison Keys. Keys has patterned her game after Williams, a big serve and power from both sides. Serena prevailed in straight sets to set up the most anticipated match of the tournament.
The stars were out at Arthur Ashe Stadium to see the 27th professional meeting between Serena and Venus Williams. There is much emotion in these matchups, from the sisters and those who watch. Rarely in their meetings have each played their best at the same time. This was true here also. It all went according to how sharp Serena was, with her taking the first set 6-2. But her game went away in the second and Venus showed glimpses of her past with a strong 6-1 comeback. Serena closed out the third 6-3 to capture her 16th win over her older sister. The embrace at the net afterwards was a beautiful moment.
The championship certainly figured to be hers at that point, but a rainout on Thursday disrupted the routine and pushed her semifinal with 43rd ranked Roberta Vinci to Friday. From the start there were warning signs, most notably with her movement. Serena was not moving well and it looked as though nerves were playing a part, something she denied post-match. She won the first 6-2, but then starting missing the court. Vinci put together the match of her life. Vinci won the second 6-4, then Williams went up a break and 2-0 in the third but it just never felt right. Vinci sprayed the court with winners as Serena struggled throughout. Nerves did not affect Vinci as she served out the 6-4 third set to the shock of all watching. She had pulled one of the greatest upsets in tennis history.
Vinci went on to play her best friend, 26th ranked fellow Italian Flavia Pennetta the next day in the final, playing under heavy gray skies. Pennetta, twice before a semifinalist, had upset #2 Simona Halep in the other semifinal. Pennetta defeated Vinci 7-6, 6-2 to win her first, and last, Grand Slam title. Much to the surprise of everyone, Pennetta announced her retirement during the trophy presentation, going out on top.
For Serena Williams, 2015 was the best season of her career, even if not the most historic. She has only three losses, but the last one will sting for quite some time.