By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Roberta Vinci's stunning defeat of Serena Williams in the U.S. Open semi-finals on Friday triggered an immediate collapse in ticket prices for the women's final, which now features two players who are virtually unknown outside the tennis world.
Williams, who dominates the women's game, suffered one of the biggest upsets in tennis history when the unranked Italian sent her packing with a gutsy, come-from-behind 2-6 6-4 6-4 victory before an astounded crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium court in New York.
The devastating loss meant that Williams, 33, lost her chance to make tennis history as the fourth woman to win all four majors in the same year, a so-called calendar-year Grand Slam. It also postponed until at least next year her pursuit of Steffi Graf's open-era record of 22 major titles.
But the remarkable turn of events also touched off a dramatic plunge in ticket prices for the final, which will include two veteran and well-respected Italian players, Vinci and her childhood friend, Flavia Pennetta - but no Americans or marquee names, said Chris Leyden, a content analyst for online ticket aggregator SeatGeek.
Leyden said the median price for tickets to the final on the secondary market, which stood at about $550 before the start of the tournament nearly two weeks ago, had risen to more than $1,500 by Wednesday morning, the day after Williams defeated her sister Venus in the quarter-finals.
Prices began to edge lower on Thursday and early Friday, he said, but remained at nearly $1,200 at the start of the semi-final.
Those rates began to drop by the third set of the Williams-Vinci match, Leyden said, as buyers and brokers began to sense that a historic upset could be in the making that would spike the top-ranked player out of the final.
By the time Williams had walked dejectedly from the court, her shot at history dashed, ticket prices had plunged even more steeply and within hours had fallen below $500, he said.
"This is pretty much as dramatic as you're going to get, just because there had been so much building up and prices just kept rising and rising," Leyden said. "It really went from one extreme to another."
Leyden said the ticket-price crash probably meant that some brokers would take a loss on the final, although he added: "That's a risk you take buying tickets for an event like this."
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Sandra Maler)