Serena will have to wait until next year to try for a grand slam. Her run came to an end in the semi-finals of the U.S. Open.
Shock waves rippled through Arthur Ashe Stadium on Friday afternoon.
Playing a semi-final match that was originally scheduled for Thursday night, but delayed by rain, Serena Williams’s superb summer came to a stunning end, two wins shy of completing the first calendar Grand Slam since 1988. Surprise semi-finalist Roberta Vinci prevailed, 2-4, 6-4, 6-4.
Vinci came into the match as a serious underdog. The 32-year-old Italian had not played a top-10 seed in the fortnight, and had never beaten Williams in four previous meetings. Even she hadn’t thought she had a shot, she told the crowd after the match.
Her expectations seemed to be accurate as Williams dominated the first set. Vinci earned an early break to lead 2-1, but Williams took the break right back, then smashed a huge winner to force break point at 3-2. She quickly converted, then converted again at 5-2 to take the set.
Williams faltered slightly to open the second set, double faulting to let Vinci build a 0-40 advantage, but battled all the way back to hold serve. It looked like she was in control. And the fans were completely in her corner.
She’d said earlier in the week that she isn’t accustomed to being the fan favorite in New York, that the crowd usually likes to cheer on the underdog, at least until the final points. She said she understands – who wouldn’t want to see good tennis?
But on Friday, everyone just wanted to say they saw a piece of history. The entire stadium celebrated with her, then gasped when Vinci broke her to go up 2-1 in the second set. They sounded pained when Vinci, against all odds, forced a third set.
It was the second match in a row that Williams took the first set and dropped the second. It was the 12th time this year that she’s had to play a third set. Vinci celebrated that set as though she’d won the match. But it’s nearly impossible to maintain momentum against Williams. She held to open the set, then broke with a massive forehand slam to go up 2-0. But then it was Vinci fighting back from 40-30 to break Williams. She was not out of this yet.
Williams looked flat in the next game, as she failed to take a point off Vinci’s serve. Was she starting to let the weight of the moment get to her? She’d been one set from advancing to the final, where’d have attempted to complete the first calendar Grand Slam since 1988, to tie Steffi Graf with most major wins in the Open Era, to pass Chris Evert with most U.S. Open wins.
Vinci took the first point off Williams’ serve in the next game. The crowd went ballistic when Williams evened it at 15-15, then went to 30-15. They hung on every single point – and so did Williams. She crouched and cheered throughout that game, screaming as she got to 40-15. Here was the ferocious fighter everyone had come to see. She held. 3-2. Vinci quickly held. Williams built a 40-30 lead, but an error at the net brought it to deuce. She answered her own mistake with a 126mph ace. The next point produced the best rally this tournament has seen. Williams nearly landed in the photographer’s pit as she attempted to reach the final shot. Back to deuce, then Vinci took the advantage, then held. The Italian was playing superb tennis. She led 4-3.
The stadium DJ played his Williams rallying cry: “Let it go.” He, too, is definitely in the Williams corner. Williams came out and forced a quick break point, but failed to convert. Vinci served for the game, and the 5-3 lead, but double faulted. Williams failed to take the opportunity, though. Vinci held two points later. She led 5-4. Williams would have to hold, then break to keep her summer alive. She quickly accomplished the first half.
But on Friday, Vinci’s serve was just too good. She held with five straight points. Game. set. match. There will be no calendar year Grand Slam this year.
That sets up a championship meeting with fellow Italian Flavia Pennetta, who had bulldozed No. 2 Simona Halep earlier Friday, 6-1, 6-3.