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NEW YORK – Roberta Vinci was congratulated over and over in the 24 hours after her stunning semifinal win at the U.S. Open.
"Because I beat Serena?" she would ask the well-wishers.
Instead, she recalled, she'd be told: "No, for your interview."
The 32-year-old Italian pulled off two improbable feats Friday — she beat 21-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, then she rapidly won over a crowd that moments earlier was dismayed to see an American's shot at history dashed.
That will endure as an indelible image of this year's U.S. Open: Vinci's luminous smile and self-effacing charm after one of the greatest upsets in tennis history.
Those remained on display Saturday even after she lost in the final in straight sets. Partly because the champion was still an Italian — childhood friend Flavia Pennetta. Partly because she recognizes she accomplished so much this week no matter what happened in her last match.
Vinci had never made it past the quarterfinals at a major before this tournament; she became the oldest first-time Grand Slam women's semifinalist in the Open era, which began in 1968.
Then on the biggest stage she had ever stepped on, she played the match of her life Friday. A day later, the 43rd-ranked Vinci couldn't quite recapture the magic, a bit too worn down emotionally and physically from the staggering upset.
When Saturday's 7-6 (4), 6-2 loss was over, Vinci was beaming again almost immediately. As the two sat in side-by-side chairs waiting for the awards ceremony, Pennetta confided that she was about to announce her retirement. Vinci playfully punched at her former junior doubles partner.
When Pennetta later praised her play, Vinci joked if that meant she instead would get the winner's trophy.
Asked during her news conference if she was any relation to Leonardo da Vinci, she had to give a disappointed shake of the head.
But she couldn't help herself. "My uncle!" she deadpanned, before quickly adding in Italian, "Don't write that!"
Vinci assured everybody that she won't be retiring too — at least not just yet. She's certainly thought about it plenty of times, but for now the passion is still there.
Asked what she and Pennetta proved this week, Vinci asked some Italian reporters for the English translation of a word before answering: "Miracles can happen."
She started listing the miracles: She beat Serena Williams. Two Italians reached a Grand Slam final. And one Italian won a major title.
Vinci can't wait to get home to see the reaction in Italy firsthand.
"I love New York," she said. "Today probably is my last cheeseburger, and then tomorrow pasta — real pasta — at home."