NEW YORK: The disbelieving look on Serena Williams' face as Roberta Vinci's half-volley died quietly into the blue turf said it all - the stress, strain, shock and finally that first flicker of sadness, it all came quicker than her serves. The weight of expectation - a Grand Slam - which the competitor in her had carried with great gusto for most of the summer, had rolled off her shoulders just as darkness descended. As Serena moved up to the net to shake hands with her Italian conqueror
Serena walked the edge the whole tournament at Flushing Meadows, holding on by the smallest of margins, refusing to let go and in the end powering through on a combination of energy and excellence. Tight, tenacious steps with which she moved past fellow-American Bethanie Mattek-Sands and her sister Venus, both in three sets, stressing time and again that she was playing with no nerves. She wore two outfits at the tournament, one with snakeskin detailing, the other was an 'electric melon' shade, as one of her opponents called it. But the battle-face was the same, chaotic for most part but stoic and studious in crucial moments. On court on Friday, when the dream of the Grand Slam, last achieved by German legend Steffi Graf in 1988, appeared to be fizzling out on the back of some crafty spirited play by her opponent, Serena called to the crowds in the third set, in a bid to bring them into the match. But the Italian wasn't backing of. After breaking the top-seed in the seventh game to take a 4-3 lead, Vinci, known more for her doubles success, called to the crowd, urging them to back her 'just one time'. By then the Arthur Ashe Stadium, firmly behind their local champion at the start of the contest, started to appreciate the Italian. Later, the 32-year-old Vinci, 15 years into her career and playing in her first Grand Slam singles semifinal, was asked what was going through her mind when the American, who was pushing and pumping herself, turned to the stands. "I was thinking that she was nervous," Vinci said. "She was nervous. She's trying to fight or try to take some energy, positive energy from the crowd." Serena, who tried to stay grounded through her campaign at Wimbledon and here again in New York, slipped at times. When asked why it took so long for someone to challenge Graf 's piece of history, she said: "I don't know what took me so long." The American, who was in and out of her post-match conference in no more than three minutes, refusing to take questions on 'the disappointment' or what she needs to do to get over this loss, said, she hadn't played badly. "I made more unforced errors than I normally would make, but I think she played really well. She did not want to lose today." "I thought she played the best tennis in her career. She's going for it at a late age. So that's good for her to keep going for it and playing so well. It's inspiring. She played out of her mind." Serena was equally emphatic in her dismissal of the pressure question. "I don't feel pressure. I never felt pressure," she said. "I never felt pressure to win here. I said that from the beginning. I made a couple of tight shots, to be honest, just about two. But that, I think, is normal for me in any match, you make two tight shots. Other than that, I don't think I was that tight." "I felt very happy to get that win at Wimbledon," she added, when asked what were the positives she took out of the result. "I did win three Grand Slams this year. I won four in a row. It's pretty good. It's definitely positive."