By Mary Cunningham

Sports fans live for upsets like N. C. State knocking off Houston for the 1983 NCAA title, Temple beating Penn State last weekend or the USA winning the 1999 Women’s World Cup.

But what happened yesterday at the U. S. Open in Flushing, N. Y., is an upset of such proportions that is almost hard to fathom:

Serena Williams lost a semifinal match to an unranked 33-year-old player!

All Williams had to do to make tennis history was beat two Italian 30-somethings ranked outside the top 25, two gimme matches against two women she had a combined record of 11-0 against. Do that and Williams would have won all four Grand Slam singles titles this year, something that hadn’t been done since Steffi Graf in 1988. She would have tied Graf at 22 major titles, too, the most in the Open era, which began in 1968.

Williams, hard as it still might be to believe, didn’t do it. In Friday’s U.S. Open semifinals, she suffered the biggest upset of her career—really, one of the biggest in all of sports—and was beaten by 32-year-old Roberta Vinci, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4. Williams, 33, had not lost a match in a Grand Slam tournament since Wimbledon last year, a streak of 33 wins. Williams left the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center within a half hour of her defeat.

“I don’t want to talk about how disappointing it is for me,” Williams said. “If you have any other questions, I’m open for that.”
There was really just one question: Why? Williams looked healthy. She said she didn’t play terribly. Vinci thought Williams was nervous—“I think a lot,” she said—but Williams wouldn’t go there, wouldn’t say that history had proven too heavy a burden.

“I never felt that pressure to win here, I said that from the beginning,” Williams said. “I think she played literally out of her mind.”

Vinci, ranked 43rd in the world, had never played a Grand Slam semifinal before and had been 0-4 against Williams. She had a 13-42 record against Top 10 opponents in her career. Sure, Vinci is a steady hitter, fast and competent with a pretty one-handed backhand and sturdy volleys. It’s true. It’s also like saying she was a tricycle in a race against a Harley-Davidson.

“If yesterday you told me, ‘OK, tomorrow you can win against Serena, I say, ‘Come on,’” Vinci said.

When the women’s semifinals were postponed to Friday because of rain on Thursday, Vinci said she rang her travel agency and changed her flight home from Friday to Saturday evening, the day of the women’s final. Her logic: “OK, I lost today against Serena and tomorrow I will go home,” she said.
Williams’s coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, said he knew Williams would have a tough match from the moment he saw her this morning. She was slow in practice, not herself. He said there was no reason, just life—the same kind of sluggish day that any person knows.

“It was a bad day clearly,” he said.