-- NEW YORK -- A tense and anxious two weeks of anticipation surrounding the women's draw of the US Open spilled over into unadulterated jubilation from the faces of two old friends and a first-time champion.
In a refreshing conclusion to a tournament that saw one American's dream crushed, an All-Italian final captured our imagination with a surprise retirement announcement as Flavia Pennetta followed her 7-6(4), 6-2 victory against Roberta Vinci by figuratively dropping the mic and walking off Arthur Ashe Stadium.
"This is the way I would like to say goodbye to tennis," said Pennetta, who will nonetheless finish off her 2015 commitments before retiring for good. "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."
Even Serena Williams, whose quest for a Grand Slam was quashed by Vinci's improbable three-set victory in Friday's semifinals, was taken by the emotion of the moment and the decision of one of the most popular players on tour, tweeting minutes after the match:
Pam Shriver called it "a fairytale." And it was a perfect anecdote to a tournament that saw the weirdness and potential trauma of a drone crashing into empty seats in Louis Armstrong Stadium, interrupting Pennetta's second-round match, and a record-16 retirements among the men and women mostly as a result to heat exhaustion.
And even off the court and off the grounds, there was the unpleasantness related to the false arrest and a policeman's excessive use of force to former U.S. player and world No. 4 James Blake.
While Vinci's upset win against Williams exposed the wonderfully contagious 32-year-old's personality, it also sent ticket prices and anticipation for Saturday's final plummeting.
But the first All-Italian women's Grand Slam singles final in the Open era was obviously a huge hit back home, capturing front-page headlines even in one of the nation's biggest political publications, sending the website of UbiTennis.com crashing from overuse and prompting Eurosport, a pay television network, to offer the final in Italy for free.
It also brought Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi over on a last-minute flight, as well as Pennetta's fiancé, Fabio Fognini, who had returned to Italy after his fourth-round loss.
Pennetta and Vinci were not merely two countrywomen but best friends, two women who grew up in towns just 40 miles apart, who first met and began playing tennis together at nine years old. They spent three-and-a-half years as roommates at the Rome Technical Center where they trained and hid cookies under their pillows to stave off the hunger.
"Today was a really big day for both of us," said Pennetta, who became the oldest first-time Grand Slam champion at 33.
"[We proved] miracles can happen," Vinci said, "because I beat Serena. A miracle. And then two Italians reach the Grand Slam final. A miracle."
The fear was the level of tennis might not be high-caliber between Pennetta and Vinci, two players known more for their doubles play. Also that Vinci would come out flat after Friday's emotional high. And Vinci admitted she was "tired" at the outset.
"The first set was a little bit of drama," Pennetta said. "Both of us were starting really tight from the beginning. [It] was not easy to play today with one of your best friends in the tour, with one you know since long time. A lot of emotion coming together since yesterday. It's not easy to handle everything."
The two eventually settled in, with Pennetta abandoning her conservative, defensive approach, instead matching her naturally aggressive opponent and eventually overtaking Vinci.
"Before the match we say, 'It doesn't matter. We're gonna win. It's going to be a big win for both of us. It's going to be a really big win for both of us,'" Pennetta said. "It's something amazing. ... I didn't think to be here. She didn't think neither to be here today. So it's amazing for our country. [It's] amazing for everyone.
"An incredible moment," Vinci said, "for all Italian people."
Pennetta, the second Italian woman to win a Grand Slam singles title after Francesca Schiavone captured the 2010 French Open, told her coach she wanted to retire three weeks ago, a thought she said had entered her mind seriously shortly before that. And she sprung the news on Vinci after they embraced at the net while sitting in their chairs. Vinci responded by punching the champion's arm.
"It was incredible," Vinci said. "I didn't expect that."
"She say, 'Che? Che? Huh?'" Pennetta said. "I say, 'Yes.' And she said, 'No way. It's perfect.'"
And that it was, the champion, deciding not to build on a projected career-high ranking of No. 8. For the record, she still took a $3.3 million parting gift with her.
"It's really nice for everybody, but we practice a lot, we travel a lot, we have a lot of stress," said Pennetta's coach, Salvador Navarro. "The families are home. [Playing on tour] is not as nice as it looks. At first we like it, but it's not nice like that. The money, of course, is important but I think life is more."
It was a welcome reminder as it always is.
"I'm really happy," Pennetta assured Robin Roberts, who received the on-court news with an expression of something less than Pennetta's joy.
"Winning or lose today, nothing going to change," Pennetta said. "The decision was already there. ... If I have to dream about how I want to finish, I want to stop playing; this is the perfect way."