NEW YORK — As Melanie Oudin was assessing herself as a perfectionist, Roger Federer was briefly achieving perfection, and it was Federer's easy elegance that almost did in the five-time defending U.S. Open champion.
On a windy night at the Arthur Ashe Stadium, where plastic bottles flew like paper airplanes and the tennis ball took curious twists and turns, 17-year-old sensation Oudin ended her surprising U.S. Open run as Federer continued to take dead aim on some more history.
If Federer wins a sixth straight Open, he will be the first man since Bill Tilden in the 1920s to have matched the accomplishment. Wednesday night, Federer first rushed toward, then stumbled away from, then pounced on a 6-0, 6-3, 6-7 (6), 7-6 (6) quarterfinal win over 12th-seeded Robin Soderling of Sweden. Federer is now 12-0 against Soderling, so his win wasn't a surprise. His shaky middle of the match was.
Federer said he won the first set so easily it may have fueled some casualness. "It was almost too easy," Federer said.
Already the owner of a record-breaking 15 Grand Slam titles, Federer will now play fourth-seeded Novak Djokovic in Saturday's semifinals. Djokovic made it to his third straight Open semifinal with a 6-7 (2), 6-1, 7-5, 6-2 victory over 10th-seeded Fernando Verdasco of Spain. It will be Federer's 22nd straight appearance in a major semifinal.
Oudin's tournament was ended by Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki, a 19-year-old with a captivating array of well-paced ground strokes, change-of-pace lobs and spins and the confidence to wear a ruffled tennis dress designed by Stella McCartney, daughter of a Beatle and world-renowned for her fashions.
Wozniacki beat Oudin, 6-2, 6-2. She wouldn't let herself be tempted to over-hit when Oudin tried lofting moon balls or slicing low, low backhands. So now Wozniacki will play her first Grand Slam semifinal against yet another underdog, a fellow 19-year-old, Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium. Wickmayer blasted her way past 52nd-ranked Kateryna Bondarenko of Ukraine, 7-5, 6-4. Another Belgian, Kim Clijsters, and second-seeded Serena Williams will play in the other women's semifinal Friday.
"For me, I'm a perfectionist," Oudin said, "so losing today was a disappointment. I wanted to win. Losing isn't good enough for me."
This was Oudin's first night match on the Ashe Stadium court and she lost the first three games in only eight minutes while scoring only four points (one courtesy of a Wozniacki double fault).
But even though the final result looked overwhelming, the match lasted 1 hour 28 minutes. And twice in the second set Oudin seemed poised to seize some momentum.
On consecutive Wozniacki service games, Oudin had four break-point opportunities, opportunities earned because of cleverly aggressive plays, a willingness to try drop shots and take pace off passing shots. But each time Wozniacki narrowed her eyes and recovered.
For Oudin this has been a tournament of wonderment. She beat four more highly ranked Russians to get to the quarterfinals. Her self-designed pink and yellow tennis shoes that were accessorized with the word "Believe" on the heels have become must-have items.
Even Wozniacki laughed that though she hasn't watched much tennis on television, she couldn't help but see plenty of Oudin. "They were shown a lot," Wozniacki said.
Finally, after playing in her first Ashe night match, Oudin said she may have had some sensory overload.
"It was a lot," she said. "These past two weeks have been really different for me. I've gone from being just a normal, like, tennis player to almost everyone in the United States knowing who I am now."
After Oudin lost her match, Sports Illustrated reported on its website, SI.com, that Oudin's father, John Oudin, filed for divorce from her mother, Leslie, in July 2008 and cited adultery as a cause. John also said in a sworn statement on Aug. 10, 2009, that Leslie had an affair with Oudin's coach Brian de Villiers.
According to the Sports Illustrated story, in the statement John Oudin said: "I didn't initial [sic] take any action regarding my early suspicions because I didn't want to believe my wife was having an affair with my daughter's tennis coach. . . . On Dec. 29, 2007, I confronted my wife about whether she was having an affair with Brian de Villiers. I confronted Brian de Villiers separately. My wife and Brian de Villiers both admitted to me they were having an affair."