In Italy, Vinci's parents celebrate on the couch in tears

ROME (AP) It was late in the third set when Roberta Vinci cupped her ear with a hand, pointed to her chest and waved both arms at the pro-Serena Williams U.S. Open crowd.

The Italian had just closed a spectacular 18-stroke exchange with a volley winner and wanted some encouragement from fans growing nervous that Williams' bid at a Grand Slam was at risk.

Some 4,500 miles (7,000 kilometers) away in Vinci's hometown of Taranto, Vinci's parents were growing nervous and emotional, too.

''When we won we hugged each other and tears started flowing,'' Vinci's father, Angelo, told The Associated Press in a phone interview late Friday. ''It was just me and my wife. Then the calls started coming and now our heads are spinning.''

The 43rd-ranked Vinci managed to pull out a 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 semifinal victory over Williams in one of the biggest upsets in tennis history.

''It was a liberating yell,'' Vinci said about that gesture toward the crowd. ''It's normal that the fans were for her. But I said, `Come on, how about a little applause for me every so often, too?'

''I was trying to enjoy those moments. Who knows if I'll ever have them again?''

In Saturday's final, Vinci will face fellow Italian Flavia Pennetta, a childhood rival from the same southern region in Italy, Puglia - the heel of the boot-shaped peninsula.

After Vinci's win, Pennetta's mother called the Vinci family to offer congratulations.

''We gave each other reciprocal complements,'' Angelo Vinci said. ''When they were girls they were always together. Flavia is a year older but they were always together at tournaments and traveling around. We have a beautiful relationship with the Pennetta family.''

Pennetta holds a 5-3 career edge over Vinci, although that doesn't count childhood encounters.

''Whoever wins wins but for us it's already a success having two Italians and Pugliese in the final of a Grand Slam,'' Angelo Vinci said.

Neither players' parents are traveling to New York for the final.

''We're staying at home for good luck. And Roberta likes it that way,'' said Luisa Maisano, Vinci's mother. ''We hardly ever see her. Also because of my husband's job, we can't travel that much. He's an accountant - mostly for his daughter.''

Angelo Vinci, 77, is a tennis enthusiast and taught his two children - Roberta has an older brother, Francesco - to play.

So was it dad who taught Roberta to play with all those slices and spins?

''That's just natural skill,'' Angelo Vinci said. ''She used to have a two-handed backhand and would hit slices even with that. It was her best shot. Then she had an inflamed wrist and when she played her two-handed backhand with topspin it became inflamed. So she started using only one hand.

''Even when she was a junior, they used to say she was capable of playing with a broom stick. It's just innate skill.''

---

AP Tennis Writer Howard Fendrich in New York contributed to this report.

---

Andrew Dampf can be followed at www.twitter.com/asdampf

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.