US Open: Vinci, Pennetta put Italy flag up in New York lights

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Two compatriots meeting in the final of a grand slam is nothing new in 21st-century women's tennis.

It has happened 17 times in 63 majors that two players hailing from the same homeland have faced off for one of the sport's illustrious prizes, however all bar two of those were American- and Belgian-influenced.

More specifically, the names of Williams, Henin and Clijsters were prevalent throughout.

What is uncommon about Roberta Vinci's scheduled date with Flavia Pennetta on Arthur Ashe Stadium on Saturday - the 18th instance of countrywomen meeting in a major decider since 2000 - is the timing of it.

While the pair have peaked at 11 (Vinci) and 10 (Pennetta) in the WTA Tour rankings, their best - it was thought - was behind them at ages 32 and 33 respectively.

But as the US Open's tragic hero Serena Williams has so often displayed, age is simply no barrier on the tour anymore.

Williams has won 12 of her 21 majors since turning 27 - a stark reminder to those mentoring the WTA's up-and-coming teenagers that time is well and truly on their side.

And Vinci and Pennetta have both ridden the wave of relative anonymity compared to the players they beat to advance to the final - the top-two players in the world in Williams and Simona Halep.

Now they stand on the verge of putting the Italian flag up in lights in a city in which the Mafia made it famous - Vinci's only crime stealing Serena's Grand Slam out of the annals of history, Pennetta's not making the final sooner after six quarter-finals in New York.

The fact the long-term friends will play off for a grand slam title will add a bittersweet element to the decider, not seen in the past six years.

While the Williams sisters, Henin and Clijsters were all constants in such face-offs, the two not involving the aforementioned were all-Russian dates - Svetlana Kuznetsova downed Dinara Safina at the 2009 French Open, while five years earlier, Anastasia Myskina beat Elena Dementieva at Roland Garros.

The Myskina-Dementieva battle is the closest precedent of the Vinci-Pennetta spectacle - the two Russians making history by being the first to play-off for a major from their homeland, and also being close friends.

Palermo resident Vinci reflected on her clash with Brindisi's Pennetta, the pair hailing from the heel (Vinci) and toe (Pennetta) of the boot-shaped nation.

"Yeah, will be a tough match for both tomorrow. I think a lot of pressure," Vinci said. 

"But we know each other for a long time. I played against her three or four years ago and I lost on the centre court. I remember that I was completely scared, like a little bit blocked. 

"I didn't play. I didn't play in that case. So I hope that tomorrow - of course I will do my best. But I will like to play. To play, enjoy, enjoy and to play my game, and not so stressed or tight. Because it's a finals. It's normal. Come on. Enjoy. That's it."

Contrary to Vinci's claim, it is not normal. Two Italians will battle it out for a major title, for the chance to join Francesca Schiavone as the only to have brought home a singles grand slam crown.


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