Behind The Scenes

Rinaldi captures emotions of Vinci’s victory in post-match interview

Whether it was from colleagues like Mike Golic. . .

Or media watchdogs like Richard Deitsch. . .

ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi received high marks for Friday’s post-match, on-court interview with US Open finalist Roberta Vinci. (Vinci faces Flavia Pennetta in the Championship on ESPN, Saturday at 3 p.m. ET.)

If it’s Friday, it must be East Lansing. . .

Tom Rinaldi’s post-match interview may never had happened if not for a prescient decision by ESPN Production to keep Rinaldi at the Open instead of having him join the GameDay crew from Michigan State, as he normally would on a fall Friday.
Figuring there would be history of some kind – with a Williams Slam or an upset winner – Rinaldi put off his football assignment and was in position for his Vinci masterpiece.

Rinaldi is accustomed to fronting taped features with athletes, coaches and others in the sporting realm. That was not the case yesterday when Rinaldi’s interview was live to a national television audience that has been averaging more than one million viewers through nearly two weeks of competition. Rinaldi needed to be ready to react to the unpredictable.

Moments after teammate Mike Tirico labeled Vinci’s cessation of Williams’ quest for a historic natural (calendar year) Grand Slam “one of the most improbable wins this Championship has seen. . . a mountaintop most thought unreachable,” Rinaldi – at two minutes before 3 p.m. ET – began helping to capture Vinci’s overflowing emotions (with an assist from Director Lou Kusserow’s fanatastic shots from all angles of Ashe).

“You’re just trying to get out of their way, and let the athlete have their moment and spotlight,” Rinaldi says, noting the immediate post-event interview is “absolutely the most privileged” position for a journalist, getting first crack at the athlete fresh off the thrill of victory “in the moment.”

This proximity is new for ESPN this year at the US Open as exclusive domestic rights holder, and yet another benefit of the company’s new standing at the event.

Given that opportunity, Rinaldi knows the words he draws out of the competitor are much anticipated.

“Fans have been invested in the match or game for hours, yet they haven’t heard a word from the competitor,” he says. “They want to hear from them, to hear in the athlete’s words how they did it and how they feel.”

That Serena had won three consecutive US Open trophies and four straight Major titles to give her a career tally of 21 and Vinci had never before reached a Major final made the triumph all the more amazing to the 32-year old Italian.

At times struggling to find the words – especially in her second language of English – to express how she felt, Vinci charmed the crowd saying she had given herself no chance when she woke up that day, that this was the greatest moment of her career.

“I could touch the sky with my finger,” were her words to Rinaldi and she even apologized to the American crowd for dethroning their queen but, “today is my day. . . . sorry guys.”

It was Rinaldi’s acumen in knowing when to press on with questions and when to step back, that allowed the moment to breath and Vinci to catch her breath. It was two professionals on the very top of their games.

Just before the interview began, viewers saw Rinaldi lean in and say something to Vinci. His message was delivered in Italian, a language he studied at the University of Pennsylvania.

His pre-interview congratulations - in Italian - was also a fitting end to Rinaldi's five minute-plus interview with Vinci.
Rinaldi and Vinci just before the start of their on-court interview.

“I told her ‘everything is right’ and ‘well done’ in her native tongue,” Rinaldi reveals.

“Ben fatto,” he said to Vinci.

Well done, indeed.

Josh Krulewitz and David Scott contributed to this post

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