Sports psychology insight – New York Times – Nicholas McCarvel – September 9, 2009 – Women’s tennis has always been littered with talented teenagers. Martina Hingis reached her first grand slam quarterfinal at 15 years of age. Venus Williams did so at age 17. Steffi Graf was 16.
So when comparing Melanie Oudin’s meteoric run at this week’sUnited States Open to the past, it doesn’t seem so meteoric; Oudin is a mature 17 herself.
But for Hingis, Williams, Graf and a host of other women, their appearance in such late-round matches early in their careers were expected of them. They had been predicted to make it big from a young age; they had been primed for the big time.
Oudin, on the other hand has had to fight for every point, game, set and match on her way from world No. 373 in 2007, to a current rank of No. 70.
Moreover, she has taken the hardest path to a Grand Slam quarterfinal by any little-known teenager in recent years.
In the past decade, only three players under 18 have advanced to a Grand Slam quarterfinal while possessing a ranking outside of the top 50 in the world: Oudin, Sesil Karatantcheva and Lina Krasnoroutskaya.
Karatantcheva’s run came at the 2005 French Open, where as a 15-year-old she stunned Venus Williams in the third round. Her path, otherwise, was rather padded: she beat one other seeded player and faced two players ranked outside the top 90. The average rank of her four opponents was 57.
Krasnoroutskaya also made her run at the French Open, but as a 17-year-old in 2001. She beat no. 9 Nathalie Tauziat in the opening round, but then did not face another seed until Justine Henin handily beat her in the quarterfinals. The average rank of her opponents was 67.
In contrast, Oudin has faced magnificent resistance at Flushing Meadows. Her first-round opponent, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, was ranked No. 36, and was only the third player not to be seeded coming into the Open. The average rank of Oudin’s first four opponents? 21.
The biggest obstacle for any young player to overcome is her older opponent’s power. On clay – where both Karatantcheva and Krasnoroutskaya accomplished their quarterfinal feats – the speed of the ball is slowed significantly, and power is neutralized.
At the United States Open, however, the courts are DecoTurf hard courts that play extremely fast, making Oudin’s ball-retrieving, power absorbing and counter-punching that much more impressive against the powerful groundstrokes of Elena Dementieva, Maria Sharapova and Nadia Petrova.
Is Oudin’s run to the second week the best ever by a low-ranked youngster? It’s hard to say. But she can certainly put herself in an elite group with a win over Caroline Wozniacki on Wednesday night.
No American teenager has been to a Grand Slam semifinal since Serena Williams did so here a decade ago. Good company to keep for the No. 70 player in the world.
Melanie certainly has the eye of this sports psychologist