Wednesday, September 09, 2009

US 10.5- Caroline in the City

Well, you just knew it couldn't last.

For nine days of this U.S. Open, the M.O. (modus operandi) of M.O. (Melanie Oudin) was to lose the 1st set to a higher-ranked opponent, work her way into the match during the 2nd, then seize the day as the Russian on the other side of the net eroded before everyone's eyes in the 3rd and then was forced to leave Ashe Stadium with her head down while the 17-year old American sowed the seeds of a legendary Cinderella run to the quarterfinals of her home nation's slam. But on Night 10, Oudin, under the lights (and REAL pressure of expectation) for the first time, faced up with a 19-year old Dane with a desire that was as subtly quiet and charming on this night as Oudin's has been pleasingly loud and overt at this tournament.

What happened wasn't exactly the happy ending that many in the crowd wanted, but it didn't mean there was nothing to be happy about on this night.

Throughout the opening set, it was obvious that Oudin was finally feeling the tension and natural case of the nerves that she'd managed to avoid through her first four matches. Meanwhile, just two nights after she'd knocked off '04 Open champ Svetlana Kuznetsova on Ashe, any tightness within Caroline Wozniacki's being was no where to be seen. While the crowd, and maybe Oudin, waited for lightning to strike yet again, Wozniacki raced to a 5-1 lead. She double-faulted to break herself for 5-2, but immediately finished off the set by breaking Oudin. C-Woz claimed the set at 6-2, while Oudin's new legion of late-seated fans (due to the overrun of the day session) were forced to mostly sit on their hands... and wait.

In the 2nd set, Oudin and the crowd were looking for anything that might signal that another Oudinesque comeback was brewing. For a few moments, it looked like it very well could be. At 1-1, an Oudin crosscourt backhand awarded her with two break points. But Wozniacki, unlike the Russians, never wavered and allowed the American to steal away the momentum of the match. By the time she worked to get to her own game point, even the net was on her side, popping up a C-Woz shot into the air and plopping it softly down on the other side of the court, out of reach of Oudin's racket and swift feet. Then, at 2-2, the breeze inside Ashe kicked up just as Oudin had two more break points... but she pushed a backhand down the line wide, then a forehand beyond the baseline. Wozniacki held for 3-2.

With that, Oudin's moment has passed. There would be no more magic from the mighty mite from Marietta at this Open. Soon, an Oudin shot popped off the top of the net just as Wozniacki's had earlier in the set... but it landed outside the court. The message was clear: it just wasn't meant to be. The Dane won 6-2/6-2 to advance to her first career slam semifinal.

Princess Charming pulled the emergency break on The Little Engine That Could.

Nick Laham/Getty Images

I suppose all the omens had been lined up before the match that fairly signaled its ultimate result. The Oudin family being tossed from their hotel room because they hadn't booked it for so long a stay in the Big Apple. Then, in a pre-match segment from the stands, Pam Shriver interviewed Melanie's 9-year old sister in her t-shirt emblazoned with "Believe," the Oudin battle cry at this Open. Shriver covered the girl's eyes and asked her to spell the word. She said, "b-e-l-e-i-v-e." Yep, the clock was ticking even before the players took the court.

But, still, Oudin is a believer, and that naturally-held belief should never leave her even if it tries. And it will, too. Someday. The tennis road for a teenaged star is never one without bumps. Just ask... umm, to name a few, Elena Dementieva and Maria Sharapova. One day Oudin will be called upon, when times become tough, to recall the belief that fueled her run at this Open. As her idol Justine Henin was inspired by her cramp-filled, belief-instilling Round of 16 win over Lindsay Davenport at the '03 Australian Open to go on to win her first two career slam titles later that same season, Oudin has a wealth of proof and memories to call upon as she advances to the next and future stages of her career. A star was born in New York over the past two weeks, and the sport is better off because of her arrival. So, feel bad for the end of the "Oudin Open," but good about the teenager's future.

And feel ecstatic for Wozniacki.

Remember, it's Wozniacki who's still alive in this tournament, with her dreams still coming true. Nice girls do sometimes finish first (or, in this case, at least in the top four). While she'd surely wear a black hat fashionably well, even while she was putting an end to this U.S. Open's feel-good surprise story it's impossible not to mentally put a white hat on her head. Before the match, Wozniacki said that she didn't think the crowd would be rooting against her, just FOR Oudin. Afterward, she told the fans that she hoped she'd won some of their hearts and that they'd cheer for her next time out. It's a pretty safe bet that she'll get her wish.

Princess Charming never misspeaks and has yet to commit a misstep at this tournament. While Oudin mastered the emotional highs, Wozniacki's mastered the happy medium that's allowed her to be just one win away from her first appearance in a grand slam final. Plus, she managed to make the sun shine at night on Ashe Stadium... and not make the moon jealous.

And that's a feat worthy of a heartfelt ovation. Ah, Caroline and the city... is this the beginning of a beautiful friendship?

After being truly disappointed by the Ashe Stadium crowd a year ago when Novak Djokovic was booed during a post-match interview when he noted that the crowd was rooting against him because of some press conference push-and-pull comments with Andy Roddick from the previous few days, I was very proud of the crowd on Night 10.

During Pam Shriver's on-court interview with Wozniacki, Shriver mentioned that the Dane was the favorite to go to the final since she was playing "Yanina Wick-mayer." The tone in Shriver's voice was just a smidgen away from sneering, as it was obvious that she considers the same player she almost proudly noted that she didn't know from any stranger on the street to be something only slightly above a nonentity in this tournament. The outright uncalled-for disrespect was so obvious that at least half the crowd loudly booed Shriver before Wozniacki could even get more than a word into her answer to her question.

Wozniacki was visably taken aback by the crowd reaction, but Shriver knew she'd stepped in it. "What'd I say?," she faux-innocently asked.

Bravo, bravo. Leave it to a New York crowd to call out someone, even a former American player who herself made a stir with an Open singles run when she was even younger than Oudin, on her crap. Somehow, though, I still don't think Shriver gets that what she said -- or rather, HOW she said it -- was inappropriate. I'm not really surprised.

Hey, you play with fire like that, you're liable to get burned. In this case, Shriver deserved it.

I wonder if Wickmayer was watching ESPN2 from her hotel room?

16...Dinara Safina, May-June
15...Elena Dementieva, January @
15...Flavia Pennetta, July-August
14...Venus Williams, February-April @
10...Serena Williams, January-February #
10...Victoria Azarenka, February-March
@-ended by loss to S.Williams
#-ended by walkover

All for tonight.


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