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Posted: Saturday September 5, 2009 9:39PM; Updated: Monday September 7, 2009 9:52AM
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INSIDE TENNIS

Confident from the start, young Oudin overcomes Sharapova

Story Highlights

Melanie Oudin refused to be intimidated against Maria Sharapova on Saturday

As Sharapova discovered, Oudin's unforgiving forehand is her strongest shot

Sharapova is still clearly recovering from right rotator-cuff surgery

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Melanie Oudin (left) stood tall in Saturday's 3-6, 6-4, 7-5 upset win over Maria Sharapova.
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2009 U.S. Open
Day 15
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NEW YORK -- What we learned as the Melanie Oudin bandwagon begins to overflow following her 3-6, 6-4, 7-5 win over Maria Sharapova ...

1. She's a grinder, not a grunter. The 17-year-old with the taped-up left thigh proved capable of surviving on the big stage Saturday. While Sharapova, a former Open champ known for acing mettle tests, double faulted away crucial points, Oudin kept charging, pumping her fist and yelling, "Come on!" Her gait was confident from the start, fast-walking out to the baselines and asserting -- then maintaining -- a confident image. She told her longtime coach, Brian de Villiers, before the match, "I cannot let Sharapova intimidate me." Despite dropping the first set, she lived up to that vow until she had a chance to serve for the match in the third set. Tightening up, she failed to convert, but maximized her second chance. After her final cross-court forehand silenced the grunting Russian, Oudin said, "I think the biggest weapon can be mental toughness. It doesn't have to be a stroke or a shot or anything. If you're mentally tough, you can beat anyone."

2. The Justine Henin comparison only goes so far. At 5-foot-6, Oudin draws inspiration from the retired No. 1 and can look her hero in the eye. Still, her unforgiving forehand is her strongest shot and she lacks Henin's celebrated one-handed backhand. As Sharapova noted, "I don't see too many similarities, but that doesn't mean that one is worse than the other. I think every individual has a different type of game and executes differently."

3. Call it the Twin Theory. De Villiers, the Botswana native who has coached Oudin since she was 9, explains the Georgian's toughness as such: "She's a twin. She's been battling for everything since she was out the womb." Her fraternal twin sister, Katherine, was back home in Marietta, Ga., for the start of school this week, but Oudin's mother, Leslie, believes the fighting spirit comes from her daughter's goal-setting. "I'm not sure many kids see as clear a vision for themselves as Melanie does."

4. Sharapova's still recovering. Since returning from a 10-month tour absence due to surgery on her right rotator cuff, the 22-year-old has shortened her service motion and made successful strides toward finding her old form. In the third set against Oudin, though, she took a trainer's timeout to have her right arm -- near the elbow -- attended to. Her upper arm was massaged, too. Unable to get much on her second serve, she double faulted 21 times and expressed frustration with the inability to control her own pacing.

5. The Oudin clan is still learning its way around the stars. As Leslie Oudin made her way from the her daughter's box to the locker room, she tried exiting through three doors before finding the stairway to the players' lounge. As she left, Andy Roddick's wife, Brooklyn Decker, passed her en route to the box. "We're just trying to make everything the same right now," the elder Oudin said. "We've eaten at the same restaurant on Lexington Ave. and want to keep everything as normal as possible."

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