Grit: The Surest Path to Success

Hardly anyone paid attention in August when tennis superstar Serena Williams whipped Italy’s Roberta Vinci at the Rogers Cup in Toronto in straight sets.

Williams is unquestionably the best female tennis player in the world. She has laid waste to opponents in almost every tournament in the past year. So, when Vinci fell in the quarterfinals in Toronto, hardly anyone blinked. Including Williams.

“Just another step in the right direction,” Williams said in dismissing Vinci out of hand. “I don’t feel like I’m at my best or anywhere near it. But I feel like I’m going in the right direction and I want to keep that up.”

Not many people paid attention to that comment, but clearly it caught Vinci’s attention. The next month, at the venerable U.S. Open, Vinci got her revenge. In a three-set marathon in New York, Vinci upset the heavily favoured Williams and proved in graphic fashion that grit and determination can, sometimes, triumph over superior talent.

That is not a dig at Vinci. She is a very successful tennis player. It’s just that nobody had picked Vinci, ranked 43rd in the world, to beat Serena, the world’s number one female tennis player. Particularly after the dominant American won the first set handily.

“This is an incredible moment for me,” Vinci said in an on-court interview after the match. “It’s amazing, like a dream. I’m in the final, I beat Serena, I’m — phewwww. . . .”

But that’s not where the story of this year’s U.S. Open ended. Vinci would go on to meet fellow Italian Flavia Pennetta in the tournament final. Like Vinci, Pennetta had been successful but had never won a Grand Slam tournament. When it was over, Pennetta stood triumphant on the court and stunned onlookers when she announced that following her greatest tennis triumph, she would retire.

“This was the perfect moment, I think,” Pennetta said after winning and retiring. “Was a really hard decision to make, but I’m really happy that I did it. I’m really happy and proud of myself.”

The U.S. Open had become, in just two matches,

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