Italian tennis player Flavia Pennetta became the oldest first-time Grand Slam champion with her surprise win at the 2015 U.S. Open.
Born in 1982 in Italy, Flavia Pennetta won several junior tennis tournaments before turning pro in 2000. A key member of her country's Fed Cup team, she became the first Italian player to crack the Top 10 in singles, as well as the first to be ranked No. 1 in doubles. At the 2015 U.S. Open, Pennetta defeated her childhood friend Roberta Vinci to become the oldest first-time Grand Slam champion.
Early Years and Career
Flavia Pennetta was born on February 25, 1982, in Brindisi, Italy, to parents Oronzo and Concetta. Both parents enjoyed playing tennis, with Oronzo teaching the sport to Pennetta and her older sister, Giorgia.
After intensive training at the Rome Technical Center, Pennetta emerged as one of Italy's most promising young players. She won a series of prestigious junior tournaments in both singles and doubles, including the 1999 French Open juniors with childhood friend and Rome Technical roommate Roberta Vinci. The following year, on her 18th birthday, she turned professional.
Her successes limited to wins on the minor ITF circuit early on, Pennetta broke through with her inaugural WTA victory at the 2004 Orange Prokom Open in Poland. The following year, she added singles titles at the Copa Colsanitas and the Mexican Open and teamed with Russia's Elena Dementieva to win the JP Morgan Chase Open and place second at the U.S. Open.
The 2006 season brought the first of Pennetta's four Fed Cup titles with the Italian team, but she underwent wrist surgery at the end of the year and struggled to return to form in its aftermath. Nevertheless, she managed to defeat Venus Williams in the semifinals en route to winning the 2007 Bangkok Open, and in 2008 she posted two more singles titles and a doubles championship, along with a strong quarterfinal showing at the U.S. Open.
The first Italian to crack the Top 10 in singles, Pennetta enjoyed even more success in doubles play with Argentina's Gisela Dulko. Following their victory at the 2011 Australian Open, Pennetta became the first player from her country to earn the No. 1 ranking in doubles.
Slowed by more wrist problems and another operation in 2012, Pennetta contemplated retirement. However, she found her form toward the end of the 2013 season, reaching the U.S. Open semifinals before winning the 2013 HP Open doubles tournament with France's Kristina Mladenovic.
Pennetta claimed the then-biggest singles win of her career at Indian Wells in 2014, knocking off China's Li Na and Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska, both Top 5 players, along the way. She also enjoyed doubles success with Switzerland's Martina Hingis, the two pairing up to notch titles at the Kremlin Cup and the Wuhan Open, along with a runner-up finish at the U.S. Open.
A Grand Finale
Seeded No. 26 at the 2015 U.S. Open, Pennetta shrugged off the distraction of a drone crashing into the stands during her second-round match and survived the withering heat to march through the women's draw. After her old friend Roberta Vinci upset American Serena Williams in one semifinal, Pennetta defeated Romania's Simona Halep in the other half of the bracket to set up an all-Italian final on September 12.
With Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi watching from the stands, the two finalists traded games in the early going, before Pennetta claimed the first set tiebreaker. She kept the pressure on in the second set, eventually pulling away with a 7-6, 6-2 victory to become the second Italian to win a major and, at 33, the oldest first-time Grand Slam champion.
The WTA veteran then capped her career-defining moment by announcing her retirement. "This is the way I would like to say goodbye to tennis," she said. "I'm really happy. It's what all players think to want to do, going out with this kind of big trophy. . . . I can't think to finish a better way."