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A Bad Day For Serena Williams, A Good Day For The Italians


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon, not BJ Leiderman, who does our theme music. Time for sports.


SIMON: Veni, vidi, Vinci? Come on, Latin students, tell your parents what that means. Roberta Vinci came, saw and conquered Serena Williams at the U.S. Open semifinals yesterday when Serena Williams was just a couple of wins short of a Grand Slam. NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us now from New York. Good morning, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: This isn't the conversation we thought we'd be having today, is it?

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) It's certainly not. You know, I watched a replay of the match last night, even though I saw it in person. I didn't believe what I was seeing. And watching it again with time to think, it struck me as one of those moments - they become harder to find - when sports can truly be eloquent, I mean, in showing us how to overcome odds - huge odds in Vinci's case - how to perform tasks in pressure situations, how to believe in ourselves, although Vinci hilariously admitted she had no belief before the match that she'd beat Serena Williams.

Scott, it's probably the greatest upset in tennis history, considering the stakes and the characters involved. Could you have picked a better David to take down the Goliath of the tennis world? You know, a pint-sized 32-year-old Italian who dinks and dunks the ball around the court, and she stopped history. She's in the finals.

SIMON: Yeah. Two Italians are in the finals, right? Flavia Pennetta - both mature women in their early 30s. And, what, they grew up within, like, a couple miles of each other.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, fantastic and dynamic, versatile tennis players - double specialists - so they know how to play the angles and volley at net. And I think that's a more exciting game to watch, for sure. They both come in revved up after semifinal wins. Vinci, of course, but then Pennetta absolutely smoked one of the up-and-coming young players in the world, Simona Halep of Romania. But now they're rivals, Scott, battling each other for the biggest prize of their careers. And I have a couple of concerns about this match. How does Vinci, especially, avoid a letdown? And despite the fact that they are veteran players, there might be an overabundance of nerves. They are both in their first major championship singles final. And there's not the huge favorite to play off of and diffuse the tension. There's not a Serena in there where they can just go, oh, I'll play my butt off and have fun, the way Vinci said she approached it yesterday. They each know they've got a golden opportunity to actually win, and that could make some arms and legs lock up at key points.

SIMON: Are there any men playing at the U.S. Open this year, too, Tom? I don't think I've heard about that.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) Yeah, doesn't seem to be. We have forgotten the men with all the talk of Serena and Grand Slams. But we will not forget tomorrow's final. Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, the two premier players in men's tennis, they are both playing so well. They destroyed their semifinal opponents. Federer will have the crowd. He's so beloved. He's trying to win his first Grand Slam title since 2012. World top-ranked Djokovic with his fiery intensity is going for his third major title of the year. I think it's a tossup. I think it'll be a doozy.

SIMON: NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Boy, what a gig you've got. Thanks very much.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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