The U.S. Open got its first Gee Whiz and Holy Smokes Moment Thursday from a Gee Whiz and Holy Smokes 17-year-old from Georgia.
"I'm so excited, you have no idea," Melanie Oudin told the standing and boisterous Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd.
There she was in the bright sunshine and hot spotlight after the biggest win of her fledgling career. Oudin, the third-ranked American behind the Williams sisters and No. 70 in the world, upset No. 4 seed and perennial contender Elena Dementieva, 5-7, 6-4, 6-3, Thursday to make it into the third round.
The kid from Marietta, all 5-6 and 130 pounds of her, put in an impressive and gutsy performance. She overcame Dementieva, a Grand Slam veteran, with an array of penetrating groundstrokes that sprung from quick feet, her twinkle toes encased in electric pink and yellow tennis shoes inscribed with the word "believe."
She overcame a left thigh problem that required an injury timeout after the third game of the third set. When she grabbed that thigh and winced after a serve in the fifth game, it caused the crowd considerable angst. The crowd, she said, gave her a lift.
"I had the whole crowd cheering for me, so much support," she bubbled afterward, a refreshing amount of teenager coming through. "I was struggling a little with my leg. The whole thing was just amazing. I can't believe I won."
But she does believe. She believes like another player of her physical stature believed, Justine Henin. Henin was twice a U.S. Open champion and seven times a Grand Slam winner.
"That's the first thing that she proved, that you don't have to be six-foot-something to be No. 1 in the world," said Oudin, continuing to bubble. "But the way she plays, the way she moves, the way she uses all different shots and uses the entire court with her drop and her angles . . . She figures out a way to take down these players that overpower her with her variety and her movement."
That was just what Oudin did, for the second time this summer. It was her second big upset, the first doing a lot to beget the second. Oudin beat Jelena Jankovic at Wimbledon in the third round. "I'm glad I got to warm up on [Ashe] so I wasn't like freaked out as soon as I walked out there," she said. "I love being in the big courts. Wimbledon helped that a lot."
Though she lost the first set she wasn't being shoved around by Dementieva, whose deep groundstrokes and side-to-side angles can wear down an opponent. Oudin quickly realized that she could stay with her and wasn't being run off the court. Dementieva realized it, too, and was gracious in defeat.
"I think she is very talented. She was in the court and not afraid to play," said Dementieva, never a Slam winner but always hanging around to the late rounds. "She was playing very aggressively, really enjoying this atmosphere, the crowd support and really going for winners. So it's just the beginning, but it looks like she has a good future."
Dementieva, who said she might have been a little weary from a long hardcourt summer, also emphasized that she didn't lose the match.
"No, I think she won it," she said.
It all comes down to Oudin's shoes, the keyword on them and the player in them. "It's believing that I can beat these girls and hang there with them," Oudin said. "If I didn't have that I wouldn't have been able to win today. Because believing in myself and my shots and playing within myself today, that's how I won. I believe that I could do it."