The tennis world’s seen it. Not once, not twice, yet rarely, that few.
They storm into the battle-yard, young and fearless, unexpected, unpredicted, and with that break-through, bring in their own story to be written in the tennis books, bidding those days of anonymity, for once and for all, goodbye.
Perhaps 2009 is a witness to another, this year's US Open’s biggest story: America’s new darling and the recent over-night teenage sensation, 17-year-old Georgian, Melanie Oudin.
One who calls Justine Henin her idol, this youngster's love for tennis was inspired by her grandmother who gifted her rackets.
To spend more time for her game, Melanie began to be home-schooled from seventh grade. She knew it was the right choice, seeing her results pick up immediately, but just like every other teenager, she does admit envying her (fraternal) twin sister’s experiences at a regular school.
Back then, in 2008, came the reply,
“My goal for the end of this year would be to be in the top 200 in the WTA rankings because I think that would be possible, but I only get [to play in] so many [pro] tournaments, and I don’t know how many tournaments I have left this year. I don’t think it’s that many.”
“So if I can do well, maybe get that wild card into the US Open and win a round or two there, that would help a lot.’
A dream come true, this September, she’s back in New York, ranked number 70 in the world.
After an amazing run in Wimbledon, defeating some top seeds, No. 29 Sybille Bammer, Yaroslava Shvedova and a third round with the world No. 6 Jelena Jankovic in close three-set encounters, she had left the lush lawns of London, with some pride and contentment, falling to Agnieszka Radwanska in the fourth round, 6-4 7-5.
But her 2009 was not done yet. The Tennis World didn’t know.
There was more to come.
“I’m so excited. I can’t believe it” were the first words uttered by an exhausted and elated Melanie, on a Thursday that witnessed her biggest upset in career, to send packing the No. 4 seed Elena Dementieva 5-7 6-4 6-3.
Invigorated, it was confidence riding high, yet she knew the third round was not to be a push-over or a Saturday with the 6 ft 2” Maria Sharapova across the net, an easy one.
As double faults and unforced errors crept up from all corners that afternoon, with faltering breaks gracing the match, it was a game, more of nerves and grit, with both women just refusing to give in.
She did not dominate, nor did she always consolidate, yet she was right there, challenging Sharapova all the way to the finish line, matching the Russian’s power with her own, getting tougher as the match went on.
In a nail-biting, simply unpredictable decider that had seven breaks of serve, a brilliant forehand return down the line saw Melanie get the 5th break and a chance to serve out for the match.
With Adrenaline and excitement, and a vitalised crowd right with her,
It was nerves that came into play giving Maria an effectively utilised chance to get back in the game.
Back to levelled scores.
This time? It was 5-all, after two hours and 50 minutes.
However, yet again, a jaded, frustrated and even more surprisingly, a fairly quieter Sharapova failed to hold on, with her 20th double fault giving Oudin a 0-30 lead.
Melanie had less to do as with a little more help from the Russian, it was break point converted at 15-40.
A 6-5 lead. Just one solid service game and the match was hers.
After three hours of nothing short of drama, remarkable athleticism and unrelenting tennis, that had the Arthur Ashe crowd gripped to their seats, it was double match point for the 17-year-old American in a final game wrapped up with three unforced errors and one double fault.
The stadium came alive, a proud mother, coach and boyfriend watching, she finished with a gutsy forehand winner to clinch another upset, as the crowd erupted in applause and delight.
Exhaustion, Disbelief, and above all, Ecstasy, all woven into one as she had tears in the eyes, unable to hold back emotion.
“When I play with no fear, that's when I play my best. I don't worry about anything. I just play my game, and it usually works.”
Indeed, Melanie Oudin has "Believe," engraved on her shoes...
And etched in the heart.