And Away We Go
August 30, 2010 -- The U. S. Open has officially begun... Melanie Oudin won her first round match.
With this year's Open void of Justine Henin and Serena Williams, two of the heaviest hitters in women's tennis, Oudin's victory on the biggest stage tennis has to offer -- Arthur Ashe Stadium -- had to relieve fans searching for an American heroine on opening day of America's Grand Slam.
"I felt really honored to be playing on Arthur Ashe Stadium first," Oudin said in her post-match press conference. "I played a solid match."
The petite teen broke late in the first set to win that, and won all but two points of the second set. She closed shop for the day in less than an hour at 63 60. She was ten for ten at the net and converted all four break points. Not a bad day for the 18 year old.
Oudin's match record coming into the U. S. Open was less than anticipated, after her run to the quarterfinals in 2009 when she toppled four top Russians: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Elena Dementieva, Maria Sharapova, and Nadia Petrova. This year, though, Oudin didn't make it past the first round in eleven of the eighteen tournaments that she entered, which included The Australian Open and The French Open. She lost in the second round in Wimbledon.
Perhaps the enormous American stage lights up Oudin? Crowds were sparse as the match got underway, letting her trademark 'Come On' pierce the hot late-summer air. Her victory today could have flooded her with happy memories that will energize her next match against the recently married and #29 seed Alona Bondarenko.
There are those players out there on the first day of the Open who don't carry the allure of Melanie Oudin, but share similar dreams of a career breakthrough over the next two weeks.
The first round is pivotal to some of these players that have clawed their way through three rounds of qualifications, prior to earning their rite of passage to the main draw.
Robbie Kendrick is one such player. As he approaches his 31st birthday in November, Kendrick could label himself a consummate journeyman. His ATP ranking has hovered between 85 and 120 for most of his ten-year career. As Patrick McEnroe aptly said, "He's a great AAA player."
Kendrick has thrown a monkey wrench at a few top ten players, most notably Rafael Nadal in the second round of Wimbledon a few years back.
Today, the heavy-serving American prodded an ever-entertaining 19th seed, Frenchman Gael Monfils, taking him to the brink in a five-set slugfest. Monfils was lucky to get out of that one on to the second round.
But it was the match between Robin Soderling (#5 seed) and qualifier Andreas Haider-Maurer that drew attention right off the bat when the Austrian went up 4/1 in the first set. Soderling steadied himself and the score to win that set 7/5. You could hear the relief from the boisterous Swedish fans. Their man was on his way.
Not so fast you countrymen of famous tennis stars. Little known Haider-Maurer staged his own comeback against Rockin' Robin and leveled the match after four sets. Here was the famed Soderling staring down the serving guns of a man ranked #215 at his first-ever U. S. Open. Must have made the Swede's head spin, at least until he broke in the fifth and ran out the clock with a 6/4 closing set.
Tomorrow, the one-time teen sensation Mirjana Lucic will make her first appearance at the U. S. Open since her first-round loss in 2002. As a junior, Lucic won the title here in 1996, plus the girls' singles and doubles titles at the Australian Open. The next year she turned pro and struck gold.
Alongside Martina Hingis, Lucic won the women's doubles title at the Australian Open in 1998 -- her first Tour doubles event. She was the youngest player ever to win an Australian Open title.
In 1999, the buzz surrounding this phenom grew louder as she played her way to the semifinals at Wimbledon. She lost to Steffi Graf in three sets and became the lowest ranked player, at that time, to reach a major semifinal.
"I was not nearly as good as she is at 15," Graf later said.
But Lucic faded from the tour after a series of personal and financial problems with her father, Marinko. Lucic had accused him of 'mental and physical abuse,' as reported in a 1999 New York Times article by Robin Finn. After 2002 she barely played, periodically entering an ITF circuit event.
Lucic starts her 2010 U. S. Open campaign against Alicia Molik of Australia, another woman on the comeback trail. Lucic sits in a section of the draw chuck full of new faces during an Open that promises to give many a golden opportunity to shine. There's Kaia Kanepi, the surprise semifinalists at Wimbledon. There's Chanelle Scheepers of South Africa, a steady threat to anyone. And Alize Cornet, a former top 20 player, who will again try to revive her game an ocean away from her home in France.