Teen from Georgia beats No. 4-seeded Dementieva

Friday, September 4, 2009
Melanie Oudin celebrates her victory over Elena Dementieva during the second round of the U.S. Open tournament Thursday in New York. (KATHY WILLENS ~ Associated Press)

NEW YORK -- It's not quite the case that 17-year-old Melanie Oudin and her family knew for sure she would get this far, this fast.

Not when Melanie was 7, hitting buckets of tennis balls with Grandma Mimi back home in Marietta, Ga. Not a couple of years later, when Melanie and her twin sister began taking lessons together. And certainly not when Melanie lost her first two Grand Slam matches.

Still, there was Oudin at the U.S. Open on Thursday, ranked 70th, dealing with a painful leg and an overwhelming occasion on a supersized stage -- and beating No. 4-seeded Elena Dementieva 5-7, 6-4, 6-3 to reach the third round.

"During the match, I had confidence, and, I mean, I was right there with her the entire time," Oudin said. "She wasn't blowing me off the court. She wasn't hitting winners left and right on me."

"She knows," said Brian de Villiers, Oudin's coach, "that she can play with these girls now."

"It's just the beginning," Dementieva said, "but it looks like she has a good future."

Truth is, Oudin -- pronounced "oo-DAN," owing to her father's French ancestry -- has a pretty good present, too. This was not, after all, her first such upset at a major tournament: Oudin reached the fourth round at Wimbledon by beating former No. 1 Jelena Jankovic.

Jankovic made another early departure from a Grand Slam event Thursday, losing to 55th-ranked Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan 6-3, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (6). Jankovic reached the U.S. Open final in 2008, and she was seeded No. 5 this year, but her head might not have been focused on the court on this day: Her grandmother died Wednesday night.

The losses by Dementieva and Jankovic mean half of the top 20 seeded women are out of the draw. No. 23 Sabine Lisicki also is gone, having left in tears as she was taken away in a wheelchair after injuring her ankle at the end of a 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 defeat against Anastasia Rodionova.

No. 1 Dinara Safina nearly joined the parade of surprising exits, turning in her second poor performance of the week before hanging on to edge 67th-ranked Kristina Barrois of Germany 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-3.

"Another tough day in the office," said Safina, who double-faulted 15 times, including three in the tiebreaker. "There is no problem in the technique or nothing. Just in my head."

No seeded men lost in early action Thursday, when the winners included 2007 runner-up Novak Djokovic, and four Americans: 276th-ranked Jesse Witten, 55th-ranked John Isner, No. 21 James Blake and No. 22 Sam Querrey. French Open runner-up Robin Soderling advanced when his opponent, Marcel Granollers, quit during the third game with a back injury.

Oudin twice received treatment from a trainer for her lingering left leg injury. Late in the match, Oudin was blinking away tears, trying to push aside the injury -- and trying to finish off Dementieva.

That injury, de Villiers said, forced Oudin to pull out of two hard-court tuneup events.

"But this is the U.S. Open," he said. "She ain't going to give up anything. She's going to play on one leg if she has to."

No matter what sort of message might have adorned Oudin's shoes on this day, even her biggest fans did not think this level of success would arrive at this age.

"This is what she loves. She just loves it. She loves the game. She loves the atmosphere," Oudin's mother, Leslie, said after giving her daughter a hug and a kiss outside the locker room. "I knew she'd always make the top 10 or 20. I did know that. But not now. Maybe when she hit 21 or something."

After Oudin's first-round victory, her father, two siblings and grandmother flew home to Georgia. Mom stayed behind and shared in the joy of Thursday's win via telephone. The best reaction came from Grandma Mimi: "Oh, my gosh! That little thing did it!"

Yes, she did.

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