Credit the boisterous pro-American crowd, the hard courts or just the experience gained throughout the long tennis season, but one thing is certain: players from the United States have enjoyed a wave of success at the U.S. Open this year.
While just six Americans (four men and two women) made it to the third round in New York in 2008, this year six American men and four women advanced that far in the tournament. And while the veteran U.S. players — Serena and Venus Williams, Andy Roddick and James Blake — were all part of that group, this year’s Open also proved to be a great showcase for less established American talent.
Perhaps the biggest star to emerge is 17-year-old Melanie Oudin. Although she first burst onto the scene by upsetting Jelena Jankovic at Wimbledon this summer, it is in front of the New York fans that the Georgia teen has blossomed with stunning wins over No. 4 Elena Dementieva, No. 29 Maria Sharapova and No. 13 Nadia Petrova.
In all of those matches, there were many times where Oudin could have folded beneath the pressure of the situation and the talent of her opponent. Against Sharapova in the third round, Oudin couldn't convert on a number of decisive points in the second set. She never showed any negativity, however. Aided by some less than stellar serving by Sharapova, Oudin collected herself and ultimately evened the match at one set each. Facing Petrova in the fourth round, Oudin managed to win just one game in the first set, but she refused to give up.
Many other players, including those with much more experience than Oudin, wouldn't have been able to sustain that mental toughness. Even players currently in the top 10 often struggle with nerves and pressure.
The fact that Oudin is so successful in that regard bodes well for her continued success. Her on-court skills can continue to be refined, but mental tenacity is something that most champions have innately.
What Oudin lacks in size (she’s generously listed as 5-foot-6), she makes up for in speed and perseverance. While a powerful serve and good forehand are generally regarded as some of the most potent weapons a player can possess, Oudin shows it is possible to excel by running down virtually every return and forcing her opponent to hit more shots. She doesn't produce as much firepower as other women on Tour, but the way she handled some of the blasts from Sharapova shows that she can neutralize the power game.
Rafael Nadal is currently ranked fourth in the world, but has had a dominant run lately as he has won seven of the last eight French Open titles. Mary Carrillo thinks we’re in store for a Nadal-Djokovic final.
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