Serena Williams, two matches away from completing a calendar Grand Slam, fell today in the U.S. Open semifinal to the unseeded Roberta Vinci, who began the Open ranked 43rd in the world.
Williams took the first set 6-2 before falling 4-6 in the second and fully unraveling 4-6 in the third, where she made an uncharacteristic amount of unforced errors (she had 40 on the day) and couldn’t put Vinci away on several exchanges that would typically be gimmies.
Still, this was a slog. As the third set drew on, you could see the moment weighing on both players’ games. Serena attempted to rally herself with a level of emotion she usually reserves for finals—Yes, bitch! YES—but the runs only lasted a point or two before she resumed knocking the ball into the net. As for Vinci, she could hardly get a first serve into play, and admitted in the post-match interview that her nerves were getting to her. But she was still whomping heavy forehands around the court deep into the third, controlling the court and forcing Williams into shots she didn’t have the position or legs for.
It was a funny turn; by the end, it hardly felt like the all-time upset it clearly was. Serena was game, but on empty, visibly summoning breath with a pained face from rally to rally, the sort of anticlimacticism that always seems to be waiting at the ends of historic runs.
Vinci will now meet fellow Italian Flavia Pennetta in the final, while Williams copes with what could have been.