For retired U.S. Open champ Flavia Pennetta, no regrets
Sun., Aug. 28, 2016
NEW YORK – Flavia Pennetta arrived back at Arthur Ashe Stadium and had one question: “Where is it?”
She couldn’t wait to see the most recent addition to the photos of past champions displayed at the U.S. Open. It’s been almost one year since Pennetta affixed her name to that list, yet as she returned to Flushing Meadows on Friday, that moment felt much longer ago than 12 months.
The 2015 U.S. Open final was not only when the 33-year-old Italian won her first major title. It was also when she announced to the world that she planned to retire.
“I had the chance to say to everyone in the perfect moment in the perfect way,” Pennetta told the Associated Press before she appeared at the U.S. Open draw ceremony as the reigning women’s champion. “Of course it was a big moment – not just for the winning, but for everything.
“I didn’t have any regrets. One year later I’m here and really happy with my life now.”
She had decided a month before the tournament to leave tennis at the end of the season, convinced she couldn’t win the year’s final major and OK with the fact that meant she’d finish her career without a Grand Slam title. The grind of the tour was wearing her down, the constant travel around the globe from week to week to week.
At too many events, Pennetta was thinking: “Why am I here? I don’t want to be here.”
“Sometimes I was 100 percent on court,” she recalled, “and sometimes I was, ‘OK, I have to play – I don’t want to go. I want to be another place.’”
Where she often wants to be these days is riding the horse she owns. Her father jokes that she seems to spend more time doing that than she did practicing tennis.
This summer, where she wanted to be was on a boat cruising between Greek islands. Pennetta hails from Brindisi, in the heel of Italy’s boot, where seemingly everybody makes the short trip to Greece for vacations. No one could believe that she hadn’t been, but there was just never the time over the summer. Until now.
Asked what else she’s suddenly been able to do in retirement, Pennetta laughed and pointed out the biggest one: “We get married.”
Her wedding to fellow Italian player Fabio Fognini took place in June. Fognini is 29, and his wife isn’t trying to sell him on the merits of retirement.
“I push him to play until 35, 37,” Pennetta said, smiling.
She hopes that by then he’ll be playing as a father.
At this year’s U.S. Open, the 38th-ranked Fognini faces No. 106 Teymuraz Gabashvili in the first round Tuesday. Pennetta is kept close to tennis by her husband’s career, and she follows the fortunes of former Italian Fed Cup teammates Francesca Schiavone, Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci.
Watching matches from the stands can be agonizing. It’s so easy to see which shot the player should have hit, how they should react to a missed call.
But she also knows well that between the lines, none of that comes easy.
“From outside, you see everything so clear. When you’re on court, of course not,” Pennetta said. “You would like to help them, but there is no chance. You just have to sit there and say, `OK, come on.’”
It was Vinci, her former junior doubles partner, who Pennetta met for the U.S. Open title in one of the unlikeliest major finals ever. Vinci, then ranked 43rd, had just derailed Serena Williams’ Grand Slam bid with a shocking upset in the semis.
This was the first major final for both Italians, and the 26th-seeded Pennetta was the oldest woman in the Open era to become a first-time Grand Slam champion. Then during the trophy ceremony, she threw in one last twist to a tournament full of stunners. Her on-court interview about the end, Pennetta interjected: “I just need to say one thing more.”
She played four more tournaments to wrap up her final season. Pennetta still enjoys playing for fun but now can go a month without touching a racket.
She’s done some commentating work for Italian TV and figures she might help out the country’s tennis federation. But mostly she relishes the freedom to spend time with her husband and with her family back home in Brindisi, to travel around Italy visiting friends.
“Now I have all this time, so now I’m perfect,” she said, the smile spreading across her face. “I’m always where I want to be.”
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