US Open Tennis 2015 Women's Final: Flavia Pennetta vs. Roberta Vinci Preview

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistSeptember 12, 2015

Flavia Pennetta, of Italy, reacts after winning a semifinal match against Simona Halep, of Romania, at the U.S. Open tennis tournament, Friday, Sept. 11, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

For the first time in women's Grand Slam history, two Italian players will square off for the right to hoist prestigious hardware in the U.S Open at Arthur Ashe Stadium.  

After Flavia Pennetta upset No. 2-ranked Simona Halep and Roberta Vinci sent world No. 1 Serena Williams packing in three sets Friday, the unsung title contenders will clash at 3 p.m. ET Saturday. 

Adding to the intrigue is that neither woman has secured a singles title in 2015, which only stands to intensify their championship meeting.

And as one would expect, Pennetta and Vinci are both riding highs following upset victories over the sport's top-ranked talents. 

"It's incredible, It's incredible," Vinci said following the win over Williams, according to ESPN.com's Peter Bodo. "I'm 32, almost at the end of my career, and then I make the first US Open final in Grand Slam. I didn't expect this. I feel good right now. I can maybe touch the sky with my finger."

Pennetta expressed a similar sentiment in advance of the all-Italian final. 

"I mean, it's amazing," Pennetta said, per ESPNW.com's Melissa Isaacson. "I didn't think [I'd] be so far into the tournament... I didn't know how [I'd] handle the pressure I had."

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Calendar Grand Slam narratives have been foiled following Vinci's victory, but a whole new set of intriguing storylines has emerged in advance of Saturday's showdown. 

How They Got Here

David Goldman/Associated Press

Vinci's run to the U.S. Open final has been nothing short of miraculous. 

Not only did she trot into Flushing Meadows unseeded, but she currently clocks in at No. 43 overall on the WTA rankings. In fact, Vinci bowed out of Cincinnati's Western & Southern Open in the first round and then lost a three-set marathon against Caroline Wozniacki in the second round of her U.S. Open tune-up at the WTA Connecticut Open.

But since arriving in New York, Vinci has thrived under pressure. Four of her six wins to this point have come in three sets, with two of them—including the victory over Williams—materializing after she dropped the first set.

Pennetta, meanwhile, has dropped three opponents in straight sets, including Halep and 2011 U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur.

And if her match-to-match cadence has been any indication, we may be in for a three-set thriller Saturday. To this point, Pennetta has alternated two- and three-set wins in the Big Apple, and a straight-set victory over Halep in the semifinals represented her most recent triumph.  

Just how improbable has Pennetta's run been, you ask? Well, it rivals Vinci's. Heading into the U.S. Open, the world's 26th-ranked player failed to advance past the second round in each of her last five tournament appearances.

Head-to-Head

Sep 11, 2015; New York, NY, USA;  Flavia Pennetta of Italy reacts after beating Simona Halep of Romania on day twelve of the 2015 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sport
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

According to WTATennis.com, Pennetta owns a 5-4 head-to-head edge against Vinci, including two straight wins at the 2010 French Open and 2013 U.S. Open. Both victories came in straight sets.

For a more detailed breakdown of how the two stack up, consult the figures below, courtesy of WTATennis:  

Tale of the Tape: Flavia Pennetta vs. Roberta Vinci
Flavia PennettaRoberta Vinci
Age3332
World Ranking2643
Record in 201517-1521-20
2015 Singles Titles00
Career Titles109
Source: WTATennis.com

While there's a 17-spot disparity when it comes to their world rankings, Pennetta and Vinci are essentially evenly matched competitors at this stage in their respective careers. 

Who Has the Edge?

Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

Neither Pennetta nor Vinci has appeared in a Grand Slam final before, so this is uncharted territory for both women. 

However, Pennetta owns the one victory over Vinci at the U.S. Open, and her steadier track record indicates she should be a slight favorite. She also appeared more even-keeled than Vinci, who couldn't contain her excitement in the midst of downing Williams.

"You have to worry about the emotional letdown from Vinci after she created one of the great upsets in history," Isaacson wrote.  

With arguably her greatest feat already accomplished, Vinci will need to maintain exceptional mental strength against a disciplined player like Pennetta. 

But if Vinci can lock in, she absolutely stands a chance. She's won 51 percent of her second-serve points at the tournament, per USOpen.org, and her net play in the semifinal was arguably her greatest weapon.  

Vinci will keep things interesting with tactical quirks, but Pennetta has boasted a more lethal first serve that's beautifully complemented her ability to break opponents. With 30 break points won in the tournament thus far—second only to Halep's 31 on the women's side—Pennetta should be able to squeak past Vinci and capture her first major title.