Leave it to the best to make the finest point when it comes to teenage tennis sensation Melanie Oudin:
“She's beaten great players on the way now and it's nice for a change that somebody's coming up we haven't heard about much before. I think this is very exciting and very much needed on the women's side.”
That was Roger Federer, one of the greatest to ever play, talking about the kid from Marietta, Ga. who has stolen the U.S. Open from him, from the Williams sisters and from anyone else who felt like this might be their time. It’s all about Oudin, no matter what she does, from here on out.
Federer’s comments were spot-on because he pointed to both the sport’s biggest flaw and its greatest attraction. There are only two great players in the men’s game (Federer and Rafael Nadal) and the top players on the women’s side, the Williams’, treat the game like a boyfriend who can’t quite get over them, dismissing it and then returning to it as they please. There is no sport in need of a change as much as tennis.
Enter Melanie Oudin.
From out of nowhere comes this young American, showing all the ability and toughness and genuine enthusiasm Venus and Serena displayed a decade ago. No other sport can match this. We generally know who the next great ones will be in the major sports. They light up the minors or the college ranks and so they’re pre-packaged stars by the time they reach the professional ranks. That’s not the case with Oudin.
You’ve never heard of her because she’s the 70th ranked player in the world and chances are you don’t know 65 of the players ahead of her. The girl barely had a Wikipedia a few days ago. But there she was, stunning Elena Dementieva and Maria Sharapova and Nadia Petrova to become the best story in sports.
Women’s tennis will always draw eyes for the same reasons Sports Illustrated puts out a swimsuit edition. There’s a massive market for blondes with nice bodies. But that’s not why we should all be glued to our televisions to watch Oudin. She’s a kid, only a few years older than the boys who play in Williamsport, winning on the biggest stage there is. With that comes the excitement and energy of a teenager, as well as the unmistakable passion. That’s the best part. Kids aren’t good at hiding their emotions, so everything we see with Oudin is real.
And that’s what makes the Melanie Oudin story so refreshing. Win or lose.