NEW YORK – “Dream big!” has been the outlook of the Fair Maid Melanie of Marietta, Georgia and she made it stand up for longer than anyone could have imagined.
She was a duplicate Dorothy, 5-foot-5, carrying a tennis racket, and New York became her Oz. Millions of us fell for her, and she responded in an improbable run to the quarter-finals of the US Open. For a week the Big Apple was hers as she made apple sauce of four Russians who were bigger, stronger and higher ranked on the world scene.
The way she did in the last three of them was pure Hollywood – fall way behind, then win in a driving finish. A priceless dream that she lived.
However, dreams do fade away, often with the jangle of an alarm clock, and Melanie Oudin’s evaporated at 9:10 last night. It was a revery she shared with virtually all the 23,881 witnesses filling chilly, windy Ashe Stadium.
But one of those witnesses was Reality, and Reality was traveling under the name of Caroline Wozniacki, a 19-year-old citizen of Denmark. There was nothing rotten in that Denmarker’s solid one-sided victory, 6-2, 6-2, in 88 minutes. Wozniacki, stylish in a taupe frock and plenty of muscle in her topspinning groundstrokes, started the alarm clock ringing by winning the first three games.
Melanie could find no weaknesses of spirit such as had plagued her Russian victims. She ran down balls amazingly, kept points going in double digit exchanges. The only trouble was Wozniacki was ready to force Melanie into mistakes.
A few “We believe!” cheers rose in the stands, inspired by the marking of her yellow sneakers with the word BELIEVE. Uncooperating Wozniacki was in the business of promoting disbelief even though, “It was tough to play against the home crowd.
“But they cheered for me when I beat [Russian] Svetlana Kuznetsova. That 2-6, 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-3), Monday over the 2004 champion was the lone dicey win for the Dane, definitely a title contender.
Melanie said of the battle of blondes, “She played incredible defense, made me hit a thousand balls. She made me have to hit a winner to win a point. She frustrated me.
“But I found I could play with these top players. These two weeks have been different for me. I’ve gone from being just a normal tennis player to every one in the United States knowing who I am now
“But I’m basically a normal 17-year-old who goes to movies and the mall. There’s ups and downs in all of this. Different. I haven’t had to handle things like this before. I’m sure I’ll get used to it. This was a good starting point. Yeah, I’m disappointed. My coach says I shouldn’t be so hard on myself.”
She had her moments, winning some – but not enough – of the important points. Wozniacki lost serve for the only time to 5-2, but retaliated immediately to take the opening set.
It was time for one of the late hour comebacks that lit up the tournament – only Wozniacki wasn’t having any of it. She ducked two break points to lead 2-1, and two more in an eight minute, five deuce game to stay ahead 3-2, whereupon she ran the table.
Though those break points could have turned the set around, the dangerous Dane remained a pain.
“Melanie had a great tournament,” Caroline said. “She’s handled all the attention well. You don’t get this far [in a major] without beating good players as she did. I had to fight for every point, never give up.” She, the winner of three titles this year, was ”thrilled” to reach her first major semifinal.
Little Melanie, in her newcomer’s surge, made us think of 16-year-old Chris Evert flying to the semis of 1971, 14-year-old Tracy Austin the quarters in 1977, 16-year-old Pam Shriver the final in 1978, and 17-year-old Venus the final in 1997.
She was marvelous fun while the dream endured, an extraordinary kid whom we’ll hear more of – and she took home $ 175,000 to shop the malls.
A charmer to the end, she took the microphone and thanked the patrons “for supporting me.” She learned a lot in the big city, foremost that Reality was nimble and quick, and carried a Danish passport.