Maria Sharapova knows all about the audacity of youth, having won Wimbledon when she was just 17, but the tables were turned on the Russian here yesterday. The former world No 1's attempt to recapture the title she won three years ago was ended by Melanie Oudin, a 17-year-old American who has captivated the crowds with her bubbly personality and bold game.
It is Labor Day weekend in the United States and Oudin, a bouncing bundle of energy with an engaging smile, captured the holiday spirit. Wearing shoes with the word "believe" imprinted on them, she was not short of confidence. She went for her shots, particularly on her forehand, and whipped up the crowd inside Arthur Ashe Stadium with her fist-pumping celebrations en route to a 6-3 4-6 7-5 victory.
This has been quite a year for the teenager from Atlanta, who lost to Laura Robson at junior Wimbledon last year. At No 70 in the world she is already the third highest-ranked American behind the Williams sisters. She knocked out Jelena Jankovic at Wimbledon and earned her chance against 22-year-old Sharapova by beating Elena Dementieva, the Olympic champion. Having played Anastasia Pavyluchenkova in the first round, she now meets a fourth Russian in succession, Nadia Petrova.
Although Oudin has had a problem with her left thigh, there has been nothing wrong with her footwork, which constantly got her into position to hit winning shots.
Sharapova, who said her opponent had "a great future ahead of her", was frequently made to look leaden-footed, though the Russian's greater physical problem was her right shoulder, on which she had surgery last year. The former world No 1, who has had to change her service action, took an injury time-out for treatment in the third set. She made 63 unforced errors and served 21 double faults.
Both players dropped their serve eight times and Oudin had a remarkable 26 break points. The match finished after nearly three hours when the American ended a run of six successive breaks of serve by cracking a forehand cross-court winner.
"I just kept fighting as hard as I could," Oudin said, fighting back tears of joy. "I tried as hard as I could. I just can't believe it."
Earlier in the day it seemed that New York might be acclaiming an even more unlikely hero. Jesse Witten looks like he should be serving pizzas rather than tennis balls, but the 26-year-old world No 276 kept Novak Djokovic on court for three and a half hours. The world No 4 looked relieved at the end of his 6-7 6-3 7-6 6-4 victory.
Witten, who arrived here having never won a match on the men's tour, played college tennis at the University of Kentucky and has had five of his student buddies sharing his Manhattan hotel room. He scratches out a living playing in Challenger and Futures tournaments and his efforts here will more than treble his earnings for the year so far, which stood at $21,266 (about £13,000). There are 27 Americans above him in the world rankings.
Although he moves well and has some nice touches, Witten is built more like a prop forward. Djokovic, apparently searching for a polite description, said: "He's different to the others, but he's so fast for his? you know, physically-wise. He's not tall, but I didn't expect such speed."
Witten won the first set tie-break 7-2 with a backhand down-the-line winner after correctly guessing where Djokovic would place what should have been an easy put-away. He served for the third set at 6-5 and had Djokovic serving at 4-4 and 0-30 in the fourth, but both times the Serb kept his nerve. Djokovic now plays Radek Stepanek.
Roger Federer also dropped a set before beating Lleyton Hewitt 4-6 6-3 7-5 6-4. Earkly on the world No 1 served poorly and looked out of touch, but Hewitt was unable to drive home his advantage. The Australian has made a spirited return to the top flight this summer but is not the player who won eight of his first 10 matches against Federer. He last beat the Swiss in 2003 and has now lost to him 14 times in a row.Reuse content