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The wild, the wacky and the weird at U.S. Open

Melanie Oudin, the 17-year-old quarterfinalist, has grabbed most of the headlines, but a lot of strange and interesting things have gone on under the media radar, too.

September 09, 2009|BILL DWYRE

FROM NEW YORK — Melanie Oudin has stolen the headlines in a U.S. Open that has now sorted itself out to the more manageable quarterfinal stage.

But lots more has happened. Interesting stuff falls through the cracks, doesn't get talked about. It must have been interesting, because a record total of 423,427 came through the gates the first week. Before 1991, that used to be the total for the entire tournament.

Recession? Tennis a dying sport?

Here are some of the highlights, lowlights and general thoughts. Read carefully. There will be a quiz:

* Nikolay Davydenko defaulted while trailing in the third set of a third-round match. He is the Russian who was the subject of a match-fixing controversy in the summer of 2006, defaulting out of a match in Poland when several million dollars had been bet on his opponent, a much lower-rated player.

Davydenko explained his withdrawal here: "Some muscle problem, like groin muscle maybe. We don't know yet. I can't explain."

Davydenko's ranking dictated that he be seeded No. 8, but he hadn't even gotten a sniff of a main court before he defaulted.

Wonder why?

* Andy Roddick came into this tournament playing as well as anybody, maybe better than anybody. He was riding the crest of a captivating Wimbledon final in which he held serve and held off Roger Federer until the 77th game. Then he lost here to 6-foot-9 former U.S. collegiate star John Isner in a fifth-set tiebreaker and Isner quickly exited in the next round, going quietly in four sets to Fernando Verdasco.

After the Verdasco match, Isner said he would follow the tour to Asia, but not happily.

"I'd like to be staying home and watching football," he said, "but I've got to be over there and not watching football. It's going to stink."

That sound you hear is Roddick, grinding his teeth.

* Russian women had more trouble than just losing to Oudin, who has sent home four to date. Vera Zvonareva, seeded seventh, came apart -- literally and figuratively -- in a night match against Italy's Flavia Pennetta.

After Zvonareva lost six match points in the second set, she had both knees taped, then proceeded to tear the tape off, bit by bit, between points, sputtering and cursing, while Pennetta ran away with the set. At one stage, Zvonareva sat on the court and slapped at the tape on her knees. Many feared a total nervous breakdown at that point.

Afterward, she told the media that she wasn't upset at all. She just wanted the chair umpire to let her have the scissors so she could cut the tape off herself.

Good decision by the chair umpire.

* Another Russian woman, Svetlana Kuznetsova, won here in 2004, won the French Open this year, and as the No. 6-seeded player was looking like a shoo-in to the final on her side of the bracket. No. 1 Dinara Safina, No. 4 Elena Dementieva and No. 5 Jelena Jankovic had departed.

But Kuznetsova lost a tight three-setter to No. 9 Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark. Afterward, she got the tournament award for honesty.

Asked whether she perhaps thought that Wozniacki's game was defensive and boring, Kuznetsova said, "I don't care about her. It's my game and I lost it." Asked how she thought Wozniacki might fare in her next match, against Oudin, Kuznetsova said, "I don't know. I really don't care."

* There are various theories on why No. 2 Andy Murray lost so badly Tuesday, looking lifeless and clueless. This was the player picked by many to break through and stop Federer's five-year run here. Murray got to the U.S. Open final last year.

There seemed to be no explanation, except to those who watched his night match in the previous round against Newport Beach's Taylor Dent. Dent not only serves and volleys, he plays so differently from anybody else currently on the tour that any rhythm and pace Murray might have hoped to acquire as he went deeper into the draw was gone in this match.

Dent aced Murray once with a 145-mph serve, and once at 88. Dent didn't just return, he chipped and charged. Murray won in straight sets, but he spent the entire night shaking his head and mumbling to himself.

Croatia's Marin Cilic, Murray's conqueror Tuesday, may owe Dent a thank-you call.

* Two Spanish players played serve-and-volley tennis throughout their entire matches. Is there a clay shortage in Madrid?

* Novak Djokovic is back. The Serb warmed the New York crowd in 2006 with his on-court impersonations. Then, last year, he got on its bad side by criticizing Roddick during an on-court interview. Monday night, they enticed him back to do some impersonations, including one of John McEnroe, who left the TV box, came down and played a few points.

A good time was had by all. Novak is back. And TV got to do what it does best -- call attention to itself.

* One of the silliest concepts perpetuated by the media is that tennis players actually care about the fortunes of other players from their country.

Oudin, who at 17 can be excused for saying things she thinks she is supposed to, told the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd after her Labor Day victory that her success "is good for American tennis."

The players don't care. They are independent contractors. They may root for their friends, but their friends could just as well be from Uganda as the good ol' USA.

Venus Williams got the inevitable what-do-you-think-about-Oudin question the other day and said, "She's got a lot of spirit and she can just keep improving her game."

Sniff, sniff.


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