Saturday 22 October 2016

Pennetta has perfect exit as big names go missing

Simon Briggs

Published 14/09/2015 | 02:30

Flavia Pennatta reacts after winning the women’s singles at the US Open
Flavia Pennatta reacts after winning the women’s singles at the US Open

The women's singles final produced an entertaining match on Saturday, as well as a heart-warming display of solidarity between two long-serving Italian players who grew up together, shared a house in their early years, and spent several seasons as a doubles team.

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Having won the title in straight sets Flavia Pennetta, 33, embraced her opponent Roberta Vinci warmly, and then surprised everyone by revealing in her on-court interview that she had already decided to retire following this tournament.

(She later clarified that she would play out the season, fulfil her commitments in Asia, and hope to make the end-of-year appointment at the Singapore event for 2015's top-eight women.)

This fairytale ending for a popular and deserving champion - plus the sheer surprise value of a match involving the 26th and 43rd ranked players - meant that the final will be better remembered than many such occasions.


And yet, there was also a problem here.

Even before Pennetta dropped her bombshell, we had a sense that the result would make little or no impact to the overall shape of the women's game.

Sport needs a narrative, and in the case of women's tennis, there has only been one story in town this year: Serena Williams and her pursuit of the calendar grand slam.

It was perhaps fortunate that, after Vinci closed the chapter on that book in the semi-final, the US Open could fall back on the Italian duo's subplot to animate the last grand-slam match of 2015.

But where do we go from here?

It is time for a quick scan of the landscape. If Pennetta emulates Marion Bartoli by declining to play another grand slam after her breakthrough win, there will be nine active women who have won a major, starting with the two global stars who continue to hold up the whole edifice - Williams and Maria Sharapova.

Three more women have the look of one-slam wonders - in Ana Ivanovic, Francesca Schiavone and Sam Stosur - while Venus Williams and Svetlana Kuznetsova are in the twilight of their careers.

Which leaves only two proven champions in their early or mid-20s: Petra Kvitova, who continues to struggle with the physical demands of playing week in and week out, and Victoria Azarenka, who is gradually regaining momentum after losing much of last season to a foot injury.

It is not a particularly encouraging outlook for the sport, especially as Azarenka has shown some of the same tendency towards on-court prickliness that the men's No 1 Novak Djokovic occasionally exhibits.

Yes, there are plenty of young starlets showing promise, from the world No 2 Simona Halep to the 18-year-old Belinda Bencic.

But until they actually start winning the big tournaments, the field of contenders will remain limited in numbers and short on intrigue.

An apologist might argue that the men's events are also fought out by a narrow band of players.

But at least the rivalries between the so-called 'Big Four' - now perhaps a 'Big Five' with Stan Wawrinka's emergence as a big-name -player - have followed a compelling pattern.

In the women's game, by contrast, Williams has steamrollered every major opponent since the retirement of the two Belgians, Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters.

Her last three grand slam defeats have come against rank outsiders Vinci, Alize Cornet and Garbine Muguruza.

While Williams has a major goal on the horizon in the shape of the Rio Olympics, it will be interesting to see how deeply her setback here will affect her desire.

Her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, will use Steffi Graf's record of 22 major titles - just one ahead of Williams herself - to motivate her for the future.

But can she summon the energy to go out next season and try for the calendar grand slam all over again?

Hingis doubles up

Top seeds Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza beat Casey Dellacqua and Yaroslava Shvedova 6-3 6-3 to win the US Open doubles title and cap off a perfect visit to Flushing Meadows.

Hingis, the former singles world number one, and her Indian partner tore through the doubles tournament without dropping a set to claim back-to-back grand slams after their victory at Wimbledon.

It has been a productive and busy visit to New York for Hingis who also captured the mixed doubles title with India’s Leander Paes.

After easily taking the first set Hingis and Mirza broke to open the second and apart from a late wobble were never really threatened by the Australian Dellacqua and Kazakhstan’s Shvedova.

For Hingis, it was her second US Open doubles title and it came 17-years after she won her first in 1998 with Jana Novotna.

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