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Melanie Oudin, 17, Continues Her Surprising Run Through the U.S. Open
With her tenacity and pluck, pumping herself up with shouts of "C'mon!" after key points, she has transformed Ashe Stadium into her personal playground and made devoted friends of the 23,000 fans who paid top dollar for the privilege of seeing legends up close.
The 5-6 Oudin is hardly a tennis legend. But through four rounds of play, she has demonstrated a deep reservoir of the raw material from which legends are made.
It doesn't reside in any particular shot. Oudin's forehand can be potent, but it's hardly the most imposing on tour. Her serve does the job. Her backhand doesn't hurt her, and her volley is rarely on display. But she fights with unrelenting belief, playing her best when things look most bleak -- as she did to break Petrova to open the third set on a masterfully played lob that soared over the 5-10 Russian's outstretched racket and plopped squarely on the baseline.
Even world No. 1 Roger Federer has taken note, calling Oudin's run of upsets here -- toppling Russian seeds Elena Dementieva and Sharapova before beating Petrova -- "fantastic."
"The fighting spirit and being solid off the baseline, having some options in her game--it's something that sometimes you don't see so often, unfortunately," said Federer, who enjoyed another seemingly effortless victory Monday, breezing past 14th-seeded Tommy Robredo, 7-5, 6-2, 6-2.
Oudin started slowly against Petrova, as has become her pattern.
It's not that she intends to lose the first set, she explained later. It's more that the pace of the balls struck by world-class players demands a moment of adjustment for a teen who this time a year ago was ranked outside the top 200.
Petrova flat-out overpowered her in the first set.
The second set unfolded in streaks, with Oudin taking an early lead and the Russian rallying to force a tiebreak.
If Oudin felt pressure, it didn't show. Petrova cracked first, double-faulting to hand the teen an early minibreak. Moments later Oudin led 6-1, and she closed the tiebreak on yet another error by the Russian.
"You really have to come up with a great shot," Petrova said, admittedly thrown by Oudin's defensive skills. "You feel like you're coming up with a good shot, and she just runs the ball down."
Petrova, ranked as high as No. 3 in the world in 2006, went on the attack in the third set. And unlike so many of the high seeds who lost early, Petrova didn't succumb to nerves.
For the most part, she was pounded into submission by a teenager who thrived on running down balls and firing them back with the glee of a Golden Retriever that would rather collapse from exhaustion than stop.
Oudin broke the Russian on four of her five service games, including the last, to close the match in 2 hours 27 minutes.
"I start off really well in every third set I play because I believe so much in myself after I win a second," Oudin said. "I have the momentum, and I know I can win."
Up next for the young American: ninth-seeded Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, who upset 2004 U.S. Open champion and sixth-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova, 2-6, 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-3), in the evening's first match.
"There are a lot of talented girls out there," said Brian de Villiers, Oudin's coach since age 9. "She dreams big, and she believes."
Note: In Monday night's final match, fourth-seeded Novak Djokovic routed 15th-seeded Radek Stepanek, 6-1, 6-3, 6-3.