NEW YORK • After Flavia Pennetta produced a shocking, fascinating and heart-warming US Open triumph, she still had a bigger surprise in store.
Before accepting the trophy following her efficient 7-6 (7-4), 6-2 victory over fellow Italian Roberta Vinci, the 33-year-old announced that she would retire at the end of the year.
"I decided that this is the way I would say goodbye to tennis," said the oldest maiden Grand Slam champion in the Open era. "This is my last US Open and I couldn't think of finishing in a better way."
With her first title of the year, Pennetta will rise from No. 26 to No. 8 in the world rankings, and could possibly end her career in Singapore. She is set to compete in Wuhan, Beijing and is a contender for a place in the elite eight-player Women's Tennis Association Finals at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
One of the first to be in on Penetta's swansong secret was Vinci. While the childhood friends sat in their chairs waiting for the trophy ceremony to begin, Pennetta leaned over and whispered into the 32-year-old Vinci's ear.
As the No. 26 seed, Flavia Pennetta is the lowest seed to win the US Open. In 2009, an unranked Kim Clijsters won at Flushing Meadows following a return from retirement.
The odds that the Italian would be this year's US Open champion.
The number of matches that Pennetta won at Grand Slam tournaments this year before arriving in New York. All three victories came at the French Open. She lost in the first round of the Australian Open and Wimbledon.
"What?" Vinci said in Italian, unable to fathom why Pennetta would retire when she was playing her best tennis. But after a few seconds, she changed her mind.
"It's perfect," Vinci told Pennetta.
Pennetta's fiance, Italian player Fabio Fognini, had known about the news just hours earlier.
The man who knocked out 14-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal in the third round surprised Pennetta by flying back to New York from Italy, only to receive a surprise himself.
Having battled injuries on a regular basis in recent years, she revealed that she had made the decision to call time on her career at last month's Toronto event.
"This was the perfect moment, I think," she said, after celebrating with those in her box, thanking her coaches and kissing Fognini. "Was a really hard decision to make, but I'm really happy that I did it."
Making the occasion extra special was sharing the stage with Vinci in the first all-Italian women's final in the history of the US Open. At a combined age of 66 years and 19 days, they were the oldest finalists in the Open era, breaking a record that had stood since 1977. There to congratulate them both was Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
Vinci, 32, had miraculously overcome world No. 1 Serena Williams with a stunning semi-final victory that crushed the American's dream of completing a calendar-year Grand Slam.
"She is like a sister," said Pennetta, who defeated two-time Grand Slam champion Petra Kvitova and world No. 2 Simona Halep en route to the final. "It's so magical, you have one of your best friends with you in this moment. It's amazing."
They met some 24 years ago as young players in southern Italy.
"I am really happy and happy for Flavia," Vinci, the world No. 43, said. "It's tough to play against a player who you have known for a long time. I tried to play my best, but she played unbelievable and I have to say congratulations to her."
She was not the only one.
"@flavia-pennetta congrats I'm so happy you won. You deserved it. I am also happy for the rest of your life's journey. I will miss your smile," wrote Williams on Twitter.
Added US tennis legend Jimmy Connors in a tweet: "@flavia-pennetta No better time to retire - on top and a Champion!! Well done!!!!!"
Pennetta joins other tennis stars to retire shortly after a great triumph. Pete Sampras won the 2002 US Open and walked away and Marion Bartoli retired after winning Wimbledon in 2013.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE,
NEW YORK TIMES