When you upset a former World No. 1 and US Open champion, it's easy to be considered the biggest story of the day.
If unseeded underdog Melanie Oudin continues her magical run into the second week of the tournament, however, she’ll be well on her way to being the 2009 US Open’s most unlikely headliner.
For the second time in three days, we highlight the diminutive 5-foot 6-inch pint-sized teenage phenomenon from the suburbs of Atlanta, GA, who this time defeated No. 29 Maria Sharapova 3-6, 6-4, 7-5, amidst wild cheers from the patriotic capacity crowd inside Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“I learned, once again, proved to myself that I can compete with these top girls,” said the 70th-ranked American, who once again rallied from a set down to beat her heavily-favored opposition. “And if I believe in myself and my game, then I can beat them.”
To coin the cliché, it was history repeating itself.
On Thursday afternoon, Oudin knocked out another elite Russian, Elena Dementieva, in a three-set nail-biter, 5-7, 6-4, 6-3. When it looked as if Dementieva would overpower her by breaking her first two services of the third set, Oudin returned the break three times in turn and finished off Dementieva with an emphatic smash that Dementieva barely grazed.
After beating Dementieva, Oudin remarked: “I didn't think that she was blowing me off the court. She wasn't hitting winners left and right on me. We had long points. I was right there with her. I knew if I could play well and keep being aggressive and stay in there that I could do it.”
Oudin has shown an ability during this first week that often separates the younger, inexperienced players from their more seasoned and heralded counterparts: mental toughness, and an ability to reach back and gather energy late in a third set, as anticipation and nervousness pervades players, fans, and millions watching worldwide.
“I try to pretend that it's not like Arthur Ashe Stadium playing Maria Sharapova,” said Oudin. “I try to just pretend it's any other match, even just practicing.
“Sometimes I tell myself I'm just practicing at my academy at home and I'm just playing one of my friends.”
Looking the part of player dealing with the pressures of the moment, Sharapova -- who still probably isn’t back to peak form after missing almost a year of singles competition with a torn rotator cuff -- struggled mightily with her serve for the entire match, double faulting an alarming 21 times.
Though the score was close on paper, Oudin would decisively win the battle of unforced errors (44 for Oudin, a whopping 63 for Sharapova) and winning percentage on second serve (42% to 30%) -- a fact which Sharapova cited as her major downfall in the match.
“(I) just couldn't decelerate today,” said Sharapova. “I was hitting second serves no less than 95 miles per hour. I even tried to hit it less and I just couldn't.”
Including her first round triumph over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Oudin has had three matches against higher-ranked Russians, with three emphatic victories -- and if she is to keep the Cinderella run going, she’ll have to knock off a fourth Russian powerhouse in 13th-ranked Nadia Petrova.
“I haven't really watched Petrova that much,” said Oudin. “She plays similar to a lot of the girls I played so far. I'm going to go into it like any other match and hopefully play well.”
Four Russians… Three of them seeded… Two “Player of the Day” honors…
It's been one unforgettable run in Flushing.
“Someone asked me at Wimbledon, how I would describe the whole experience,” said Oudin. “There's not really one word. Everything about it is just unbelievable. But basically I love to play tennis, and that's why I'm here. I'm loving it.”