Christian Cieri, Illustrator

Coming into the 2015 U.S. Open, all eyes were on Serena Williams.  Having won all three earlier major championships this season (Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon), Williams was one tournament away from making history and completing the Grand Slam, a feat last accomplished by Steffi Graf in 1998.

Many believed that if Williams could overcome her first few matches in the tournament, she would be able to cruise to the title, as she often plays better as a tournament goes on.  While Serena did get through her first five matches, she was shockingly defeated by Italy’s unseeded Roberta Vinci on Saturday in one of the biggest upsets in tennis history.

Vinci had never advanced to a major semifinal before, and although she has been a mainstay on the women’s professional tour, she has never been seen as any sort of a threat to the very top players. Instead, she has made more of a name for herself in doubles, where she has been ranked No. 1 in the world in the past.

On paper, Serena was expected to blast through her seemingly overmatched opponent, and after one set, nothing seemed out of the ordinary, with Williams comfortably winning 6-2.

Vinci refused to go away, however, playing a unique style of tennis, utilizing a variety of slices and spins and moving forward to the net frequently–all rare strategies in the modern women’s game.  The Italian’s play clearly took Serena out of her comfort zone, and the 17-time major champion was unable to find her form.  Vinci also excelled when it came time to close out the match, showing few signs of nerves as the prospect of pulling off the biggest win of her life came closer to reality.

Vinci’s post-match, on-court interview was just as enjoyable as the match. The 32-year old was elated to the point of speechlessness. When she was asked if she woke up in the morning believing she could win, she quickly responded “No.”  In fact, she later admitted that she had already made flight arrangements to go home after the match, which she happily adjusted after the win.

Vinci’s magical run to the U.S. Open final came to an end the following day, as she was defeated by her countrywoman and friend Flavia Pennetta, another mainstay of the WTA Tour who has never been considered a real threat to win a major.  And to add to the surprises of the weekend, Pennetta announced after the match that she was planning to retire and go out on top.

Serena’s upset will not soon be forgotten, and despite the disappointment at her missed opportunity to make major history, the tournament still saw two women reach a level of success exceeding even their own expectations.  For as much recognition as Serena’s loss will rightly receive, the triumphs of Vinci and Pennetta also deserve to be remembered.

Shapiro is a member of the class of 2016.

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