Oudin gives U.S. tennis a big hope for the future

Oudin at the Open

Melanie Oudin

Photos: Check out the best shots of American teenager Melanie Oudin’s memorable five-match run at the U.S. Open.

Melanie Oudin ran out of Russians to play and lost.

Beating a Danish 19-year-old who is closer to her age group was always going to be a different task and, as it turned out, a more difficult one.

To the disappointment of the vast crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium and everyone down there in Marietta, Ga., Oudin’s fantastic run at this year’s U.S. Open came to a fairly abrupt end Wednesday night at the hands of No. 9 seed Caroline Wozniacki, who employed just the right kind of tactics to beat the 17-year-old starlet 6-2, 6-2.

“I knew she was going to be tough and I knew she was going to fight to the last point,” said Wozniacki afterwards. “So I was like, I have to get as many balls back as possible and try to make her run. Keep her on her backhand and make her run on her forehand. That was my goal and I think it was a good way to play the match today.”

Unfortunately for Oudin — the feisty teen with the word “BELIEVE” stamped across the heel of her shoe — Wozniacki was absolutely right. Moreso than those three famous Russians that Oudin had outfought from a set down, the Dane had the perfect game to outplay an opponent who, unsurprisingly, didn’t move with quite the same alacrity as she had done in her previous encounters.

“I think I started off slow,” Oudin admitted. “I wasn’t able to come back. She’s such a strong player. She doesn’t give you anything for free. She plays incredible defense. Makes me hit a thousand balls so I don’t know what else I could have done.”

Oudin admitted that, being a perfectionist, losing was a disappointment. But she is a bright, level-headed girl and added, “The whole experience here is going to take me a long way, I think. I’ve gained a lot of confidence and I think I can only get better. I’ve played with top 10, former No. 1 players in this tournament and I’ve been able to do well. I mean, I got to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open, so I know that hopefully I can do it again and again.”

There is no reason why not because Oudin has the mind for the game — a maturity to stay calm, focused and determined in the heat of battle that is rare in one so young. She has been the story of the championships and women’s tennis in America is a lot healthier after what she has achieved.

Another great story on the women’s side

The WTA will be delighted with the way in which new, attractive stars have burst through to grab headlines at this U.S. Open. Oudin and Wozniacki are not the only ones. The other quarterfinal pitted Yanina Wickmayer from Belgium against the Ukrainian Kateryna Bondarenko, and it was the tall, powerful Wickmayer who came through 7-5, 6-4.

Ranked just two places higher than Bondarenko at No. 50 coming into the tournament, the 19-year-old Wickmayer made that gap look a little too small as she took charge of the match from the start with solid serving and backcourt hitting.

“She didn’t give me any chance to win it,” Bondarenko said. “She just played unbelievable today.”

Like Maria Sharapova, Wickmayer was taken to Florida by her father at the age of 9 but the circumstances were rather different. Yanina’s mother had just died of cancer and, wanting to get away and concentrate on the game she loved, she settled at Saddlebrook Tennis Academy.

“I guess I just decided as a little girl to get away from home and put my memories and thoughts to something else,” she said. “To focus on other things in life and try to move on. … It’s been a really tough time for me but I see now it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

It appears that it was very much Yanina’s wish to try the Florida experiment, and her father went along with it just to try and bring some happiness into his daughter’s life.

“He was just a normal guy in Belgium and he just gave up his whole life for me,” Wickmayer said. “He listened to a little girl who was 9 years old and gave up his life, his dreams. I guess I’m always going to respect him for that. He’s just a great guy.”

You think he’s a proud Dad, or what?

Federer-Djokovic clash set

In the first of the day’s men’s quarterfinals, Novak Djokovic had to hang tough before finally getting the better of that talented Spanish left-hander Fernando Verdasco, winning 7-6, 1-6, 7-5, 6-2.

Djokovic seems at ease again in New York this year, following his strained relationship with the crowd 12 months ago, and thoroughly enjoyed his little hit with John McEnroe after his victory over Radek Stepanek in the previous round.

“It feels like 2007, you know, when I played finals here and did all those crazy things, impersonating players,” he said. “So it was really a lot of enjoyment playing with McEnroe the other night. You know, it was unexpected. I promise it wasn’t planned. It just came out. It was good.”

Even better is the fact that Djokovic, who knows what it is like to live in a city that is being attacked, has been hosting the children of 9/11 victims in his box. He hasn’t publicized it but was asked to verify the fact in press conference.

“I don’t really want to talk about it,” he said. “I’ve been meeting four different guys in these past two weeks. I have been giving them presents. … I know what it feels like so I just try to bring some smiles and make them enjoy. I hope that’s what I did.”

After he had lost to Roger Federer for the 11th straight time in the final of the French Open in June, Robin Soderling was very honest about the problems he has with the great Swiss.

“I can’t play him,” he said simply. “He plays too fast for me. I can never get into the match.”

That seemed to be holding true as Federer raced away to a 6-0, 6-3 lead and then went 4-0 up in the third-set tiebreak. But suddenly, Soderling found the extra gear and decided to go for everything. A couple of great forehand winners, backed up by some great serves, enabled the big Swede to claw his way back and take that breaker 8-6 and then push Federer all the way into another one.

The reigning champion needed consecutive aces to keep level with a suddenly rampant opponent, but when he reached set point at 6-5, nerves clutched at Soderling’s arm and he hit a forehand wide. A backhand error cost him on the next point and Federer closed it out, again at 8-6.

The victory extends Federer’s astonishing run in Grand Slams to 22 consecutive semi-final appearances or better. He thinks it is one of his greatest achievements and his peers will agree. When other players talk about it, they just shake their heads in disbelief.