ROME, Italy - Roberta Vinci's storied 20-year career came to an end at the Foro Italico on Monday afternoon, as the former World No.7 played the final match of her career in a defeat to Serbia's Aleksandra Krunic, 2-6, 6-0, 6-3.
The 35-year-old Vinci announced her intention to retire at her home tournament in the offseason and was given a hero's reception from the moment she stepped on Court Pietrangeli over the course of the one hour, 33-minute first round encounter.
The 2015 US Open finalist, currently ranked World No.191, needed a wildcard for her farewell tour in Rome, and rolled back the years as she took a one-set lead.
Nonetheless, Krunic found her form in the match's middle stages, winning eight straight games to stamp her authority on the encounter, and held off a late charge from the home favorite to advance to the second round.
"I tried to say, 'Okay, this is probably the last day, so try to enjoy, and try to smile," Vinci told reporters after the match. "I was happy about the crowd, and my parents, my team and all my friends were there. I lost, I know, but I was happy - and this is what I wanted."
"It was definitely difficult - this is the second time in my career that I found myself in this situation," Krunic said - referencing the victory she had over Kimiko Date in Tokyo last fall in the Japanese legend's last match.
"With Kimiko, it was different because I didn't know her that well, and I hadn't played her ever...Roberta, I played her three times and I know her really well. In the first set, I definitely didn't deal well with my nerves. She played really well, but I was very nervous, very annoyed by everything. The crowd was amazing towards her - they were very loud, and it was tough to focus. I tried to just keep my arm loose and let myself play my shots in the second set.
"The third set was also very tricky, very tough, but it was not about tennis a lot today. It was about putting myself in one piece and excecuting what I was trying to execute, without thinking about all the other factors, which was pretty tough."
Krunic lost four of the last five games of the opening set, as the veteran Italian routinely got the better of patented cat-and-mouse exchanges between the two - to the delight of a packed house on Court Piertrangeli.
"If you prepare for these kinds of situations, you have in the back of your mind that it could be her last tournament, and then you can underestimate things, which is never a good thing. I haven't seen her practicing, or a lot in tournaments, so I didn't know what the situation is," Krunic assessed.
"She might've enjoyed it more than her previous matches - that she was fitter and played better than her other matches, because she's going on vacation, like she said! I definitely don't think that you can prepare for those things. I think you should just try to understand that it's another match...but it's a tricky situation to be in."
Both players struck 13 unforced errors in the first eight games, but Vinci's 11 winners nearly doubled Krunic's total of six, as the Italian was a perfect 3-for-3 on break points.
Krunic's tennis started to find its mark in a second-set bagel, as she struck 13 winners to just four unforced errors and raised her first-serve percentage to a sparkling 83%.
The Serb broke Vinci three times in the second set, as she won 12 of the 15 points played on return overall, and streaked through eight straight games by winning the first eight points of the decider.
Though the Italian favorite got the match back on serve after building a 0-40 lead in the sixth game, she was unable to carry her momentum through to a sentimental victory.
The World No.46 won the next 11 points to put herself in prime position for the victory, and though Vinci saved the first two match points she faced on serve, she was unable to prolong the encounter - and her farewell tour - when she buried a final forehand in the net.
"I had a difficult and different style of tennis, but you have to stay in good form, you have to run a lot, and you have to think about every single shot," Vinci said.
"Now, I can relax, and I don't think about the slice and dropshots and everything. Next is ice cream, coffee, shopping - no racquets, no tennis!"