Maybe it all was a little too much, a little too soon for Melanie Oudin.
The 17-year-old American kept erasing big deficits and upsetting older, taller, higher-ranked players at the U.S. Open, generating more and more interest in her magical ride.
Her gutsy play and those pink-and-yellow sneakers with “BELIEVE” on the heels carried Oudin all the way to the quarterfinals. That’s where her surprising story ended with a 6-2, 6-2 loss to No. 9-seeded Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark.
“It was a lot,” Oudin conceded. “These past two weeks have been really different for me. I’ve gone from being just a normal tennis player to almost everyone in the United States knowing who I am now.”
Then, keeping a brave face, Oudin added: “I don’t think that affected my tennis game tonight at all.”
Perhaps. Still, facing Wozniacki in the sport’s largest arena, playing under the bright lights, Oudin showed signs of shakiness at the start, dropping 14 of the first 18 points. Even the comeback kid couldn’t recover from that.
“This has been a great experience for me. I had a great run here,” the 70th-ranked Oudin told the crowd in an on-court interview right after the match, an honour usually reserved for the winner. “I hope to come back net year and do even better.”
It’ll be hard to top her 2009 U.S. Open.
“She’s just had so much other activity going on that mentally she wasn’t quite as focused as she should’ve been,” said Oudin’s mother, Leslie. “All this comes with experience, and she’ll learn how to handle this better.”
As Oudin’s coach, Brian de Villiers, put it: “Yeah, I think, over time, the distractions might have gotten to her.”
She made 43 unforced errors, 23 more than Wozniacki, who also was playing in her first major quarterfinal. In essence, Oudin ran into a version of herself, a counterpunching baseliner who was far steadier on this night.
“She plays incredible defence and makes me hit 1,000 balls,” Oudin said. “I could have been more consistent and more patient.”
Wozniacki leads the women’s tour in match victories this season and, while all of 19, is a relative veteran net to Oudin. Wozniacki is tied for the tour lead with three titles in 2009, including a hard-court tournament in New Haven the week before the U.S. Open began, meaning she is on a 10-match winning streak.
“I’m sorry that I won against Melanie today,” Wozniacki told the partisan fans, some of whom cheered when she double-faulted. “I know that many of you wanted Melanie to win.”