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BILL DWYRE

Melanie Oudin's storybook tale ends at U.S. Open

The teen wonder loses to cool and calm Caroline Wozniacki, finishing the run that delighted fans at U.S. Open. Oudin deserves the praise, and time will tell if this is just the beginning.

September 10, 2009|BILL DWYRE

FROM NEW YORK — At 9:12 p.m. Eastern time Wednesday, before a packed Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd looking for another Melanie Miracle in the U.S. Open tennis tournament, Cinderella's slipper came off.

The mighty mite of this two-week event, Melanie Oudin, stopped her motion on her second serve as somebody yelled from the upper deck, "Wake up, Melanie." The crowd hushed the creep, Oudin made the serve, soon hit one last backhand wide and walked to the net to shake hands with Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark.

The run had ended. In the short term, the story is over. ESPN and CBS will have to look for new darlings, or go back to featuring the old ones. Yes, everybody, Serena Williams is still in this tournament.

Oudin's 6-2, 6-2 loss to Wozniacki ended a storybook effort by this 17-year-old from Marietta, Ga., who is 5 feet 6 and whose main tennis weapon is a desire to never quit. That worked against four straight Russians, including the likes of Elena Dementieva and Maria Sharapova.

It didn't work against the smooth-hitting, cool-and-calm Dane, who had watched one Russian after another disintegrate as Oudin ran everything down and sent everything back.

"My dad, who is also my coach," Wozniacki said, "told me to go into my own bubble. In the past, maybe I throw my racket. But I know I cannot show my emotions, because that would help Melanie."

Melanie had plenty of help, anyway. The usual 23,000-plus crowd was on hand, ready to see the Melanie Magic one more time. She had lost the first set against Dementieva, Sharapova and Nadia Petrova and come back to win, prompting her wonderful, wide-eyed line in a news conference after the Petrova match: "I really don't try to lose the first set."

But there was no sneaking up on Wozniacki, who is seeded ninth, has already won three tournaments this year and had a 60-17 record going into the match. Her 2009 winnings were at $1.2 million, all this as a grizzled veteran of 19.

"I knew it was going to be tough," Wozniacki said, "and I knew she was going to fight to the last point."

The fight was there, and probably always will be with Oudin. But the execution fell short. Oudin had 43 errors, to 20 for Wozniacki, and won only 27% of the points on her second serve, a serve that was frequently in the 75-mile-an-hour range.

Wozniacki made only five winners but just kept the ball coming back, usually deep and angled. Having seen the Russians stomp around and sulk and talk to themselves as things unraveled, she never gave one hint of any frustration, even after misses and especially at tight moments in the match.

One way to read that is that it had taken the other players 10 days to figure Oudin out.

Oudin's future is uncertain. She deserves all the praise she is getting for this run, and she deserves to be able to say she is proud of herself, which she did. She also is smart enough to say, "The whole experience here is going to take me a long way."

Let's hope so. Fresh-face, clean-cut, tough competitors are great role models in sports.

The reality, however, may be that comparisons of Oudin to Tracy Austin or even Chris Evert, both of whom had this kind of explosion onto the scene and both of whom went on to win major titles, don't quite work. This is the era of Big Babe tennis, as broadcaster Mary Carillo once deemed it, and the depth of physical prowess on the tour may make it tougher to excel for Oudin than it was in the day of Austin and Evert.

Maybe not.

"I've played top-10 and former No. 1 players in this tournament," she said, "and I've been able to do well. So it gives me a lot of confidence."

Still, if Oudin had made it to the final against Serena Williams, the temptation would have been to take another mortgage on the house and go to Vegas. Same thing if it had turned out to be Kim Clijsters on the other side in the final.

The physical stuff adds up in other ways. Wozniacki took the court Wednesday night, having put in 5 hours 46 minutes to get to the quarterfinal. Oudin's meter had run for 9 hours 30 minutes.

When it ended, broadcaster Pam Shriver, who had her own run to the U.S. Open final as an out-of-nowhere teenager in 1978, had the good sense or good direction from the booth to dispense with the usual format and let somebody who lost talk.

"We usually don't interview losers," Shriver said, "But honest to God, this is not a loser."

That allowed Oudin a chance to one more time thank a crowd that had helped carry her on her dream run.

"I hope to come back to New York and do even better," Oudin said.

New York, as well as all of the people who run tennis, sponsor it, broadcast or write about it, hope for the same thing.

Oudin entered the tournament ranked No. 70. She will leave in the low 40s. Quite a fairy-tale story.

Now the clock has struck midnight. What future ticking brings will be fascinating.

--

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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