There was gushing from the prime minister, pride on the front pages and reflected glory on tennis courts up and down Italy.

The US Open victory for 33-year-old Flavia Pennetta, who faced another Italian in the final, gave her country something to cheer at the weekend and prompted predictions of new enthusiasm for a sport not known for its Italian stars.

Italy of course knows plenty about sporting glory, but it usually comes with a bunch of men – and a bigger ball.

“We’re proud,” said Gaetano Corselli at the Sant’Agnese tennis school in the heart of Rome, where tennis balls seemed to ping off rackets with a little extra zip on Sunday.

“It was more exceptional that there were two Italians in the final,” he added, clutching a newspaper with Pennetta and her 32-year-old opponent Roberta Vinci on the front page. Their heartfelt embrace over the net was published across Italian media, with newspaper Corriere dello Sport declaring the moment “The most beautiful day in our tennis history”.

Even the prime minister, Matteo Renzi, got in on the act, cancelling his engagements and hopping on a plane to New York.

“The victories of Pennetta and Vinci, and the triumph of Flavia in the final, are not only [about] tennis,” he enthused. “It’s much more than tennis. It’s a wonderful Italian story, of women that don’t resign themselves and don’t give up, proving that we are capable of everything, even of winning when no one believes it [is possible].”

His quick dash across the pond may have been too much for some Italians, more concerned about the state of their country than sporting achievement, but the enthusiasm was evident at the Rome tennis courts.

“Female tennis is already important; they’ve won cups and had good results,” said Francesca Maradei, a member at the Sant’Agnese school. “Women are more determined … men are more mentally fragile,” she ventured.

The club itself is reporting greater interest in the sport as a result of the unprecedented runs of Pennetta and Vinci.

“This is the hope, to grow from this victory,” said Corselli. “[But] Italians are more sports fans than players.”

While it was Pennetta who claimed the trophy, national pride has been focused on the two players in equal measure. Pennetta seems not to have minded, telling reporters the win was “a dream come true”.

“It’s also nice to play against a friend. She has had an incredible two weeks. We know each other since we were really young. Our first match, I was nine years old,” Pennetta said.

Both players hail from the Puglia region in the heel of Italy’s boot, where public screens were set up for supporters to watch the final. Among those watching and celebrating in Brindisi was Oronzo Pennetta, the champion’s father, who was delighted by the outcome. “It’s an exceptional feat. These girls were phenomenal. They grew up hand in hand, on the clay court, here in Puglia and now they have conquered the US Open,” he told Italy’s ANSA news agency.

The Italian Tennis Federation (Federazione Italiana Tennis) named Pennetta the “Queen of New York”, and said her victory was all the sweeter because of her announcement soon afterwards that she would retire from the game later this year.

The historic final was “the most beautiful triumph to close a career rich with satisfaction,” it said.

This article titled “US Open tennis: Italy celebrates ‘the most beautiful day'” was written by Rosie Scammell in Rome, for The Guardian on Sunday 13th September 2015 17.00 UTC

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