Oudin's U.S. Open run is over -- but her career may just be starting
Her U.S. Open run proved Melanie Oudin isn't scared of big-time competition
Caroline Wozniacki gave Oudin a different look, which she should adjust to
Wozniacki is not as talented as Oudin's other opponents, but she played well
SI.com caught up with Sports Illustrated senior writer S.L. Price, who is covering the U.S. Open in New York, after Melanie Oudin's 6-2, 6-2 loss to Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki in the quarterfinals Wednesday night. With her deep run, Oudin is projected to make her top-50 debut and could climb as high as No. 43 when the rankings come out following the Open. She is the youngest American to reach the quarterfinals at any Grand Slam since Serena Williams in 1999.
SI.com: What did you make of Oudin's run?
Price: The thing that's great about Melanie Oudin is she is big time. She lives for big moments. She likes to take down big-name players. She's not scared by anything. That is an absolute "X quality" that the great tennis players need and especially Americans love in their tennis talent. She took down Jelena Jankovic at Wimbledon. She took down Elena Dementieva, Maria Sharapova and Nadia Petrova here. In fact, I'd argue that Caroline Wozniacki is not quite as talented as some of those names and plays a game that is less big.
SI.com: So what happened to Oudin against Wozniacki?
Price: What happened is she played against an equally good defensive player who was very patient and did not give her as much to work with. Wozniacki did not crack or cause herself to go down in flames. Oudin was given the good fortune in this tournament to play some women who cracked when the matter came down to it. Sharapova had 21 double faults. That was a gift. Petrova cracked at key moments as did Dementieva. The fact is Wozniacki is a very strong player mentally, a defensive player and a counter puncher. Nobody is really surprised at this loss. Oudin was going against a player with a different array of weapons and it will be something she has to figure out going forward.
SI.com: Can she figure that out as she heads forward?
Price: I think so. She has the X factor, which either players have or don't. And that is, you rise to the big moment. American tennis, frankly, has not seen a player like this since Andy Roddick. It's no mistake that she is the youngest American player to get this deep here since Serena Williams. She has that same sort of mental fortitude that Serena does and Kim Clijsters does and people like that. Whether she has the game, whether her body will hold up, those are X-factors as well, and we'll have to see.
SI.com: Is Oudin a top-20 player this time next year?
Price: I think she is a top-20 player. She is going to have to deal with increasing attention. On Tuesday I saw her at her practice session and she came out with her eyes as big as hubcaps when the crowd was screaming for her. There were people lined up 10-12 deep and kids were screaming her name. It is absolutely culture shock to suddenly become a star. She is equipped for it on the court. The question is whether she is equipped for it off the court.
SI.com: How do you anticipate her parents' domestic situation will affect her game?
Price: What is amazing is that she has done this run where clearly there is domestic turmoil that she has to work her way through. There is no question that a kid is going to pick up on this. Whether Melanie knows about this or not is unclear. But the fact is, clearly this is a situation that strikes at the heart of her home and even of her game because her coach is allegedly involved. The fact that she was able to do what she did in New York, and not only being a 17-year-old and the pressure of the next American hope and being America's Sweetheart, but also having this private turmoil going on, it only speaks even more how mentally tough she is. Last night you had the feeling that this might be a little bit like that Jennifer Capriati-Monica Seles semifinal match in 1991. You walked into thinking maybe this will be like that. Wozniacki has more wins than anyone on Tour. So it had a whiff of maybe this is the future of women's tennis. Coming out of it, I'm not convinced that's where we are yet. But it certainly gave us an idea of things to come.
SI.com: Obviously, the attention in the U.S. was on Oudin but Wozniacki has quietly had a remarkable tournament. Are you impressed by her?
Price: In some ways her run here has been even more impressive than Oudin's. To work that crowd Wednesday night was impressive. She played the crowd like a maestro. "Well, I know everyone is here for Melanie but I hope I won a few hearts." That was very smart on her part. She worked the crowd just like she worked Oudin in the match.