After her exploits here last week Melanie Oudin was asked whether she was bigger news than The Big Chicken, a famous 56-foot tall metal sign outside a fast-food outlet in her home city of Marietta. "I don't know," the 17-year-old conqueror of Elena Dementieva and Maria Sharapova said. "The Big Chicken is pretty big."
Oudin, just 5ft 6in tall, is catching up with the celebrated Georgia landmark with every passing day. Yesterday, the new sweetheart of Flushing Meadows added Nadia Petrova to her list of US Open victims, beating the world No 13 1-6, 7-6, 6-3 to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final for the first time. She now plays the winner of last night's fourth-round match between Svetlana Kuznetsova and Caroline Wozniacki.
When Petrova won the first set in 31 minutes it seemed the fairy tale might be ending, but Oudin, who lost to Laura Robson in the Wimbledon junior tournament last year, is a gritty competitor as well as a fine ball-striker and nifty mover. Whipping the 23,000 Labor Day crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium into a frenzy with her fist-pumping celebrations, the world No 70 quickly grew in confidence. A non-stop bundle of energy, she packs a formidable punch for one so small. Fortunes swayed in the second and third sets, but on her third match point Oudin cracked a trademark forehand winner.
"In the second set I started to play better, to get more confidence and to believe that I could do it – and I did," a beaming Oudin said. "I could have lost that match, but I kept fighting."
Petrova regretted not taking her chances but paid tribute to her opponent. "She was running and getting every single ball, making me play the extra shot," she said. When it was pointed out Oudin had now beaten four tall Russians in succession, Petrova, presumably with Kuznetsova in mind, replied: "Hopefully, she now gets a short and slightly chubby Russian. We'll see how she handles that."
The winner of Oudin's quarter-final plays Ukraine's Kateryna Bondarenko, the world No 52, or Belgium's Yanina Wickmayer, ranked 50. Bondarenko took just 47 minutes to beat Gisela Dulko 6-0, 6-0.