Sunday, September 06, 2009

US.6- Melanie-in-the-Box

Hello, world.

Move over, Kim. You've just been trumped as the "story of the tournament" at this U.S. Open. Ironically, by a 17-year old home-schooled kid who idolized Justine Henin. I swear. Sometimes these things just write themselves.

Who needs a Jack when you've got a Melanie-in-the-Box to pop up and turn a grand slam on its head? If you for some reason might want to make your own home version, here's the recipe: start with an Henin foundation, throw in a dash of young Capriati enthusiasm, a tablespoon of everybody's-best-friend Clijsters, plus a splash of Sanchez-Vicario-esque Bumblebeeness and Hingisian in-point audaciousness. Then, finally, liberally work in the secret ingredient -- some Connorsican heart. Good luck to you in your endeavors. As for the rest of us, we'll have to be content with being entertained by the actual Melanie. Melanie Oudin, that is.

Sure, Oudin and Maria Sharapova had one thing in common as they took the court for their 3rd Round match on Saturday (with the Russian sporting a violet and yellow tennis dress, and the American running around in shoes of the same color). But, otherwise, the difference was striking. While Sharapova was a former U.S. Open champ, Oudin had never won a match in the tournament a week ago. And while Sharapova walked around the court looking every bit like the tall, athletic model-type with broad shoulders that would make any fashion designer's cheeks flush, the miniature Oudin brought more to mind a gymnast, with legs built for power and rounded shoulders that didn't seem big enough on which to hang any clothes, let alone big-time U.S. Open hopes.

Ah, but that's the dichotomy that is Oudin at first sight, and then everything one's learned after living through the Oudin Experience. I wonder if Sharapova had any idea what she was getting herself into?

In the 1st set, Sharapova grabbed a quick 2-0 lead, only to see Oudin fight back for 2-2. The American had chances to make a battle of the opening stanza, but the Russian always managed to beat her back, more than once recovering from a break of serve by immediately getting one of her own in the next game. Sharapova claimed the set 6-3.

Oudin had her right where she wanted her.

Sheesh. Did Mary Carillo really jokingly call the nearly 18-year old Oudin a "cougar" since her boyfriend is only 16? (Eye roll.)

In the 2nd set, Sharapova's serve, after mostly being kept at bay in the 1st, finally began to hound her. A double-fault, her tenth in her first six service games, broke herself as Oudin went up 2-1. The American raced to a 4-1 lead, then held serve after falling down love/40 to go up 5-1. Oudin held a set point at 5-2, but Sharapova saved it and converted a break chance. Then, in an eighteen-point game, Sharapova saved set points #2-4 and held for 5-4. After Oudin went up 40/love on her own serve, Sharapova saved set points #5-6.

But a wide forehand on set point #7 finally knotted the match. Oudin took it 6-4.

Heading into the 3rd set, while there was fight left in Sharapova, there was certainly a great deal in reserve for the seemingly fresh Oudin. 3rd set fatigue has been a key Sharapova foe this summer, and the American is not a player you'd want to see on the other side of the net if you're tired.

In the deciding set, Sharapova began things with a double-fault on the first point. It was a bad omen for the Russian. An Oudin drop shot on break point extended her lead to 2-0. Soon, it was 3-1 as the American was hitting from the baseline with Sharapova, working angles galore and never blinking. Sharapova held another long game, saving six break points even while running her double-fault total to seventeen to edge to within 3-2. At this point, Sharapova called a trainer to look at her elbow, then came out of the delay to break Oudin's serve for 3-3.

But if you thought that this is where Oudin would collapse, then you don't know the pocket Hercules from Marietta.

For a bit, the players switched places as Oudin was taking the initiative in points and putting away winners against a more defensive and tiring Sharapova. They traded breaks for 4-4, then again when Oudin was serving for the match. 5-5.

The match was really getting slippery at this point.

Sharapova's 20th and 21st double-faults opened the door for Oudin to break for a 6-5 lead, then the American grabbed hold of the moment. On match point, Sharapova made a lunging return of serve that landed in the short court, and Oudin put it away with an across-the-body forehand to take the match 3-6/6-4/7-5.

Excuse me if I have a slight case of deja vu. As with Henin at the Open back in '03, I'm sort of in love with the idea of Oudin. Remember, only one American teenager (Vania King) not named Williams has managed to win a tour singles title in the past decade, so even while Oudin was a top junior and a Fed Cup savior back in February who could have seen coming the summer she's experiencing? At the last two slams, she's knocked off three players (Jelena Jankovic, Elena Dementieva and Sharapova) who've all either been slam champions, slam finalists or the #1 player in the world. In Sharapova's case, she's been all three. In three days, Oudin's knocked out the hard court season's hottest player and the most famous women's player on the planet.

Yet another Russian, Nadia Petrova (Oudin's fourth straight at this Open), is up next for a trip to the QF. We can deal with the rest as it comes.

Is Oudin capable of being served off the court? Ummm, maybe. But, really, who besides Serena, Venus on a good day or the possibility of Davenport III even has such a feat in her arsenal in 2009? Oudin can only face one of them in this Open, and none until the final. So, really, when it comes to weeding out the field and determining who'll be playing next Saturday after surviving the decimated top half of the draw... well, why CAN'T it be Oudin? She's got the head, the heart and the legs for it. From top to bottom, I'd say that's a pretty complete player, no matter if she's a member of the Big Babe legion or not.

There are still tweaks that can be made to Oudin's game to perfect the recipe, like getting a little more on her serve (though she WAS, as was often the case with the slight Henin, able to pop in an ace on more than one big occasion against Sharapova). So, don't look now, but she might be just scratching the surface of her potential.

Isn't it amazing what can happen in a tennis week?

Henin and Sanchez-Vicario left huge footprints on the game in spite of their physical size because they had the wheels and the ability to think in the clutch. Oudin, who expertly employed a drop shot to perfection on break points today, does, too. In a era where so many top players seem afraid to win (as we'll see in a moment), a pesky teenager with no seeming knowledge about the "alien" notion of giving in could go pretty far. You know, like all the way to the U.S. Open final.

Plus, there's just something about a 17-year old mighty mite who's sporting a 16-4 record in three-setters for the season that makes you want to see all her dreams come true, you know.

"My goal for the season was actually Top 50. But if I keep playing like this, I can get as high as anything." - Oudin

With apologies to Paul Simon, Oudin doesn't have "diamonds on the soles of her shoes," but she does have "belief" on their outsides. As far as the diamonds go... hey, give the girl some time. I know I wouldn't want to doubt her right now.

...meanwhile, Dinara Safina was up to her usual antics on Night 6 in a match which didn't get started on Louis Armstrong until about 10pm after the Sharapova/Oudin and Andy Roddick/John Isner (Roddick loses yet another tight summer clash) matches went long on Ashe and pushed the day session into the evening.

Safina lost the 1st set 6-4 to Petra Kvitova, went down 0-2 (with two break points for 0-3) in the 2nd AND 3-1 in the 3rd. The Czech served for the match at 5-4, but Safina got a break and even held two match points at 6-5. In the tie-break, Kvitova raced to a 6-4 lead. Safina saved the first match point, but not the other, as her failure to aggressively go after the match in the crucial closing game and a half blew up in her face. The Russian Cat finally ran out of lives, being put out of her '09 slam misery after a 2:34 match that concluded at around 1 o'clock New York time.

Maybe it's for the best, though, for her to lose now in a tough match like this rather than implode in the SF or Final again. Normally, that'd be a ridiculous statement about a player ranked #1 in the world. But she's a member of the Safin family, and since when has "normal" ever been used to describe any of that clan when they have a tennis racket in their hand? Svetlana Kuznetsova is not only the only former slam winner remaining in the entire top half, she's the only one who's ever played in a slam final. Only Nadia Petrova in the group has even played in a slam QF. Kuznetsova will next face Caroline Wozniacki, who extended her winning streak to eight matches with a 6-2/6-3 win over best friend and doubles partner Sorana Cirstea on Day 6. So one semifinalist will come from the Kuznetsova-Wozniacki-Oudin-Petrova section. Not bad.

But one will also come from the group of Kvitova-Wickmayer-K.Bondarenko-Dulko, too. Yikes.

...and, finally, a POTENTIAL NIGHTTIME CLASSIC ALERT. Tomorrow night's schedule features Andy Murray vs. Taylor "Body Cast, Shmody Cast" Dent. In an Open that has already starred Americans named Oudin and Isner, who's to say Dent won't continue the pattern?

Petra Kvitova/CZE vs. Yanina Wickmayer/BEL
Kateryna Bondarenko/UKR vs. Gisela Dulko/ARG
Melanie Oudin/USA vs. #13 Nadia Petrova/RUS
#9 Caroline Wozniacki vs. #6 Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS
#26 Francesca Schiavone/ITA vs. #18 Li Na/CHN
(WC) Kim Clijsters/BEL vs. #3 Venus Williams/USA
#7 Vera Zvonareva/RUS vs. #10 Flavia Pennetta/ITA
#22 Daniela Hantuchova/SVK vs. #2 Serena Williams/USA

#1 Roger Federer/SUI vs. #14 Tommy Robredo/ESP
#12 Robin Soderling/SWE vs. #8 Nikolay Davydenko/RUS
#4 Novak Djokovic/SRB vs. #15 Radek Stepanek/CZE
#10 Fernando Verdasco/ESP vs. John Isner/USA

[by nation]
3...RUS (Kuznetsova/Petrova/Zvonareva)
3...USA (Oudin/Williams/Williams)
2...BEL (Clijsters/Wickmayer)
2...ITA (Pennetta/Schiavone)
1...ARG (Dulko)
1...CHN (Li)
1...CZE (Kvitova)
1...DEN (Wozniacki)
1...SVK (Hantuchova)
1...UKR (K.Bondarenko)
[by rank]
#2 Serena Williams
#3 Venus Williams
#6 Svetlana Kuznetsova
#7 Vera Zvonareva
#8 Caroline Wozniacki
#10 Flavia Pennetta
#12 Nadia Petrova
#19 Li Na
#24 Daniela Hantuchova
#28 Francesca Schiavone
#40 Gisela Dulko
#50 Yanina Wickmayer
#52 Kateryna Bondarenko
#70 Melanie Oudin
#72 Petra Kvitova
NR Kim Clijsters
[by age]
17 Melanie Oudin
19 Caroline Wozniacki, Petra Kvitova, Yanina Wickmayer
23 Kateryna Bondarenko
24 Svetlana Kuznetsova, Gisela Dulko, Vera Zvonareva (25 on Monday)
26 Kim Clijsters, Daniela Hantuchova
27 Nadia Petrova, Li Na, Flavia Pennetta
28 Serena Williams
29 Francesca Schiavone, Venus Williams

[US Open]
2005 Sania Mirza, IND
2006 Jelena Jankovic, SRB
2007 Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
2008 Coco Vandeweghe, USA (jr)
2009 Melanie Oudin, USA
AO: Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP
RG: Dominika Cibulkova, SVK
WI: Sabine Lisicki, GER
US: Melanie Oudin, USA

TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): Serena Williams/USA
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q3: Eva Hrdinova/CZE def. Laura Robson/GBR 7-6/4-6/7-6
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 2nd Rd.- Melanie Oudin/USA d. #4 Elena Dementieva/RUS 5-7/6-4/6-3
FIRST SEED OUT: #25 Kaia Kanepi/EST (1st Rd.-Chang/TPE)
FIRST WIN: (WC) Vania King/USA (def. Anastasiya Yakimova/BLR)
UPSET QUEENS: The Americans
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Anastasia Rodionova/AUS (3rd Rd.)
IT GIRL: Melanie Oudin/USA
CRASH & BURN: #4 Elena Dementieva/RUS (2nd Rd.-Oudin/USA
ZOMBIE QUEEN: [Temporary: Venus Williams/USA down 7-6/3-1 vs. Vera Dushevina/RUS in 1st Rd., and is still alive in 4th Rd.]

All for Day 6. More tomorrow.


Blogger Diane said...

To answer your question, I think there is someone who can serve Oudin off the court--Petrova. Petrova's career has been so strange and disappointing that it's easy to forget she possesses one of the best serves on the tour. Of course, this answer brings up two other questions: 1. Will Petrova actually bring that serve to the match, or will she go into Safina/Sharapova mode? And 2. Can Petrova's fragile mentality hold up againt Oudin's shoes?

Sun Sep 06, 12:18:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Yeah, unfortunately, because I've always been a big fan of Nadia's, I tend to discount her chances largely because of the two points you noted there. She's always had the ability to win slams, but something -- often herself -- always seems to get in tne way.

I hope she can hold it together this time, though, just to see how Oudin would handle such a situation, especially with each round theorhetically putting more and more pressure on her... though you'd be hard-pressed to point to more than a couple of moments when it's seemed as if she might have paused to consider the moment and been the worse for it so far in this tournament.

Sun Sep 06, 02:38:00 PM EDT  
Blogger leia said...

The top half of the draw is unbelievably wide open. Interesting to see who would end up as the finalist.

Melanie is slowly making her way into my heart with her unwavering belief. Though I'm still smarting from JJ's defeat to her in Wimby -- so I'm not totally sold. But she's good news for American tennis.

Mon Sep 07, 03:02:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Well, there has to be a little room in there for Melanie, Leia. She's not that big. :)

Mon Sep 07, 11:24:00 PM EDT  

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