By Steve Keating
NEW YORK (Reuters) - As far as U.S. Open encores go they don't come much tougher than the act Roberta Vinci has to follow after pulling off one of the biggest upsets ever at a grand slam during her magical run to last year's final.
Believing nothing could top last year when she stunned world number one Serena Williams in the semi-final before losing in the final to fellow Italian Flavia Pennetta, Vinci has returned to Flushing Meadows looking to go one step further.
Her long road back to the final began on Monday with a quiet 6-4 6-2 first-round win over Germany's Anna-Lena Friedsam on the same Arthur Ashe Stadium court she left in stunned silence a year earlier when she ended Williams's bid for a calendar grand slam.
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"It's a dream to come back here." said Vinci. "Last year I had incredible emotion, I made final beat Serena this is a very special court to me."
A year ago oddsmakers had set the unseeded Vinci as a 300-1 longshot to win the season's final grand slam and the tale of the tape offered no hints of possible upset.
Williams, a 21-times major winner with a calendar grand slam within her grasp, entered the match having lost just twice all season and was riding a 33-match grand slam unbeaten streak.
As for Vinci, she had never been past the quarter-finals in her previous 43 grand slam appearances and had never taken a set from Williams in their four previous meetings.
Even Vinci did not fancy those odds and was preparing to pack her bags for a trip back to Taranto before pulling off the David v Goliath upset with a 2-6 6-4 6-4 win over Williams.
"It's tough to repeat of course the results of last year but I'm number seven (seed) so of course I have a lot of pressure," said Vinci. "They expect me semi-final, quarter-final, step by step and match by match.
"It was great to be back here to play on center court first match. It's incredible to be here."
Friedsam represented a tricky opponent for Vinci, the 46th-ranked German having claimed a three-set victory in their only previous meeting, a third-round clash in January at the Australian Open.
But on the U.S. hardcourts the Italian was never in danger breezing past Friedsam in 68 minutes.
"It is always tough play the first match of a grand slam, but I won," shrugged Vinci, who will next meet American Christina McHale, a 6-2 6-2 winner over Germany's Mona Barthel. "So this is important thing today."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)