NY Sports Day

Ya Gotta Believe in Oudin

CBS veteran commentator Dick Enberg beckoned:

“Ooo! Oooo! Oudin,” following American Melanie Oudin’s second consecutive upset at Ashe- this time getting the better of former U.S. Open champion Maria Sharapova in a topsy turvy three-hour three setter that had plenty of drama.

The 17 year-old Atlanta, Georgia native showed maturity beyond her years rallying from a set down to pull out a 3-6, 6-4, 7-5 win in front of a very supportive packed house. Not surprisingly, with Sharapova still struggling mightily with a new serve since her return from shoulder surgery, the match featured 16 breaks with each fiery competitor getting eight.

Unfortunately for the 22 year-old Russian star, she bent last dropping serve when a focused Oudin hit a return forehand winner smack on the line for a fifth straight break. Neither player could handle holding but this time, the gritty kid maintained her composure by getting more first serves in to serve it out. On match point, she went for an ace up the tee drawing a short Sharapova reply. With Ashe Stadium sensing the end, Oudin didn’t miss rifling a crosscourt forehand winner before dropping her racket in disbelief and screaming in delight as loud cheers followed.

Her opponent greeted her at the net and then came a nice postmatch interview with CBS’ Mary Joe Fernandez who also doubles as her Fed Cup coach. It was a great moment as she emotionally thanked everyone for “cheering for her.

How could they not? This girl is very easy to root for because of the effort she puts in. Sure. She admitted to benefiting from a few of Sharapova’s nightmarish 21 double faults. But this was still a three-time slam winner who didn’t give up despite the dreadful serve. In the second set, Oudin led 5-1 before Maria made things more interesting forcing the youngster to courageously serve it out.

I’ve always been so competitive,” Oudin said. “I go out there and fight as hard as I can. I have ‘Believe’ on my shoes. That’s what I did today. I ended up winning and I’m just so happy.

It was even more unpredictable in the final set where Oudin was so close to a double break lead for 4-1 but a determined Sharapova saved every break point holding before using an injury timeout to treat her right forearm. The tactic worked as her younger opponent slowed down getting broken to level at three all. But every time you thought the more experienced champ had the momentum, her inconsistent serve let her down. When she wasn’t tossing in doubles, it was Oudin who was outhitting her from the baseline. No small feat given how much power Sharapova can generate.

A true testament to Oudin’s will and also her footspeed which was evident all match with some incredible defense played even producing many of her 22 winners. She converted eight of 26 break chances to Sharapova’s eight for 14. But in the end, the emerging American star held her nerves closing out a great champion.

Indeed, it was well earned as was her comeback win over another Russian, No.4 seed Elena Dementieva a round prior. And so, Oudin moves onto a Round of 16 match against one more Russian, No.13 Nadia Petrova, who easily dispatched Jie Zheng 6-4, 6-1.

Can she keep it going? Oudin’s part of the section includes former Open winner Svetlana Kuznetsova and 19 year-old No.9 seed Caroline Wozniacki. But first, she’ll have to get past Petrova.

It’s hard not to get excited. There’s so much fight in her. Even though she missed earlier chances to finish off Sharapova earlier, Oudin never got down instead continuing to be positive.

Amazing stuff from the 5-6 girl who won’t turn 18 until later this month. She might be short in stature but not in heart.

“I just kept fighting as hard as I could, tried as hard as I could,” she said. “I just can’t even believe it.”


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