Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Some will win, some will lose

And while some may be born to sing the blues, Melanie Oudin isn't part of that group. She'll sing them for a while, I'm sure, and then she'll get back to business. A 17-year-old gobbled up by the American hype machine, Oudin finally caved in tonight against a steady Caroline Wozniacki, who defeated her 6-2, 6-2 in the U.S. Open quarterfinals. Oudin had enough brain power to set up her shots, but then she repeatedly failed to execute them. Hers backhand slice helped her set them up pretty well, but the forehand that brought her so much success throughout the tournament failed her over and over tonight. In addition, her footwork and movement no longer had the dead-on timing we saw from her earlier in the tournament.

Oudin's anxiety was obvious before she even came out of the tunnel. There may have been some physical fatigue, but to me, it all looked mental. And the more errors she made, the more forlorn she looked. She said later that part of the problem was that Wozniacki wasn't giving her any free points, and she felt pressured to hit winners. Wozniacki, for her part, played a smart match, hitting Oudin into awkward court positions that she might have thrived on a week ago, but that overcame her in her first night match. Oudin's anxiety was so tangible, it didn't take her opponent long to play into it. The young American did not acknowledge any anxiety in her press conference; in fact, she more or less denied having it, but it was hard to miss.

In the first set, Oudin went down 0-4, but holding after going to deuce seemed to make her a little more confident. Interestingly, from the beginning, she served better and more consistently than she had in other matches. Meanwhile, Wozniacki--skillfully moving Oudin out of her comfort zone--kept the pressure on, and went up 5-1. It was only then that Oudin saw her first break opportunity. Wozniacki saved the first break point, but was broken on a double fault. Oudin saved two set points at 2-5, but Wozniacki took the set on the third one.

Doubtless, there was high hope that the second set would produce a different Oudin, like the one who--all last week--needed one set to figure things out. She did begin the second set with solid defense, but then mishit an overhead shot. She followed that error with her now-signature forehand down the line, and took Wozniacki to deuce twice, but did not break her. That failure was the probably the writing on the wall for Oudin fans; the other Melanie would have broken her opponent and turned everything around.

In the third game, Oudin had more break chances, but again, she could not convert, and injury was added to insult when Wozniacki held with a lucky netcord drop-over. At 2-all, Wozniacki saved two break points in a very long game. Serving at 2-3, Oudin saved two break points, but then lost her serve with a not-so-lucky netcord ball. And that was that. Wozniacki held, then broke Oudin's next serve to win the match.

Wozniacki hit five winners in the match--all in the first set. Oudin hit only eleven. She also made more than twice as many errors as Wozniacki.

When the whole thing was over, Oudin looked crushed, but, given the strength of her character, she won't let this defeat get her down for long--and she won't stop believing.

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