At first, it looked like Melanie Oudin was overmatched against 6’2” Russian glamour girl Maria Sharapova. The long Russian blonde broke in the first game, held easily in the second and cruised to a relatively easy 6-3 first set win.
Things changed quickly. As she did against the 5’11” 4th seeded Russian, Elena Dementieva, Melanie went into retriever supreme mode. Every ball started coming back. And, like Elena, Maria did not like it. She was forced to hit two and three extra balls per point. She was tiring. Her troubling ball toss and serve became even more laborious. Meanwhile, the fireplug from Marietta Georgia kept plugging away.
One television analyst said, “Melanie Oudin is not afraid to win.” She was right. The little engine that could was just warming to the occasion. Once Oudin understood the pace, understood that Sharapova did not want to play long points and was becoming heavy-footed, the match settled into never-never land, right where Melanie is most comfortable.
McEnroe quipped, “Oudin may not have the offensive weapons, but she has better defensive skills than most of the tour players.” Johnny Mac knows how to size up tennis players and he got that one right.
Melanie Oudin does not possess the Sharapova-Dementieva driving power shots but she moves well, crushes short balls and hits sharp down the line winners. She goes for every ball and never stands still.
Maria Sharapova showed class and courage. She could not overcome 21 double faults or 63 unforced errors. The fact of the matter is that Maria Sharapova is not in shape to play against Melanie Oudin. The fact is that very few of today’s tour players are. Maria had 63 unforced errors because she wanted shorter points. She did not feel like hitting against a backboard for another five minutes much less half an hour. The women’s tour players do not signup for three plus hour marathons.
But, for 17-year old players who hit the ball 12 hours a day as a seven year old, it was just another day on the court, doing what you love to do. Hey, Mickey D’s anyone?
As a youngster Melanie Oudin hit so many tennis balls against the garage door that the neighbors had to call her parents to ask her to stop. Jeez, it was only 10:00 p.m. and the floodlights were still working.
When Jalena Jankovic was asked about Oudin after falling to the 5’6” teenager at Wimbledon, Jankovic replied that Oudin had no weapons that could hurt you. That may be true, but Elena, Jalena and Maria are all on the sidelines with their stars dimming and one little 17-year old’s star is rising fast.
The fans at Arthur Ashe stadium were dazzled by Oudin. Sharapova has a big New York following. She looks like a New York kinda gal, but as the match elapsed, the Center Court fans rallied for Melanie. Fans were dancing in the aisles, shaking their heads in collective disbelief. This was the USA over the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympic hockey game. This was the kid against the consummate professional.
At 4-4, 30-30 in the third set, both players had won 103 points. Believe Melanie, believe! She did. This little woman wants to be in the moment. Melanie Oudin is not afraid to win.
After players traded breaks, Oudin broke yet again, her eighth of the match to go up 6-5. She lost the first point. Not again! Then she rattled off three straight forehand winners. Uh Oh! Sharapova was against the wall. One more deep forehand down the line and it was match over. Melanie Oudin wins another three set match against a top opponent.
In 20 three set matches this year, Ms Oudin has won 16 times. Think about that. Think about being a 17-year old upstart and knocking off the 5th best player in the world at Wimbledon, the 4th best player in the world at the U.S. Open and a three time Grand Slam Champion at the same event. Hey, pack your bags and go home. What more do you need?
Melanie, you will not be on those silly backcourts anymore. You are the breath of fresh air that Women’s Tennis desperately needs. No matter what else happens, you have outshined all the others. You have captured our imaginations and our hearts and you have run with the ball.
The 2009 U.S Open belongs to you, Melanie. Nice going. We’ll talk about the three other Russians lying in wait for you at a later time. For tonight, take in a flick, maybe Rocky, rest that sore leg and think about… hitting those balls against the garage door. Sleep tight Munchkin!