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Williams' grand plan ends in shock semi-final exit


Serena Williams stumbles during her semi-final defeat at the US Open last night

Serena Williams stumbles during her semi-final defeat at the US Open last night

AFP/Getty Images

Serena Williams stumbles during her semi-final defeat at the US Open last night

Was it the biggest upset in the history of the US Open? Serena Williams, the most dominant female player of this or any other age, came into last night's semi-final needing just two more wins to complete the first calendar grand slam in 27 years.

She lost to the unseeded Roberta Vinci, a 32-year-old Italian who had never been to the final of a major event before.

In the post-match interview, Vinci was almost unable to summon any words to describe the biggest and most emotional victory of her life. She found herself apologising to Williams at the net, and then to the 23,000 people jammed into Arthur Ashe Stadium. "I told myself just hit the ball and run, don't think," she said. "It is the best moment of my life." So much build-up and expectation had gone into Williams's drive to the title here that Vinci was supposed to be no more than part of the scenery.

Yet while the weight of history was animating the crowd's passions, it was also adding lead weights to Williams's ankles, as she struggled to find the dominant shot-making that is normally her stock in trade. Vinci had only a fraction of the power, and struck just 19 clean winners in the match to 50 from her opponent. But what she does have is a scrambling ability that she derives from her expertise as a top doubles player.

Still, if there is one chink in Serena's platinum-plated armour, it is that she dislikes dealing with the pressure of expectation. She may have claimed last night - in a brief and desolated press conference that seemed to find her on the point of tears - that "I told you guys that I don't feel pressure."

But look at her record: out of her 21 previous grand-slam titles, only five have been title defences. "I don't want to talk about how disappointing it is for me," said Williams after her 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 defeat. "I think she played literally out of her mind."

The win also sets up the first all-Italian grand-slam final in the open era, for Vinci's compatriot Flavia Pennetta had earlier performed an upset of her own against the No 2 seed Simona Halep. Pennetta won 6-1, 6-3 in just 59 minutes. (© Daily Telegraph, London)