Every so often, a young, fearless comet blazes across the broad sky that is the U.S. Open.
Three decades ago, it was 16-year-old Tracy Austin, who appropriated the title -- and the hearts of American tennis fans. One decade ago, it was 17-year-old Serena Williams.
Singer Tony Bennett, a regular at the National Tennis Center, has seen a few opening acts in his time. Seventeen-year-old Melanie Oudin, he insists, is the real deal.
Emmanuel Dunand/Getty Images
Melanie Oudin became the youngest player in a decade to reach the U.S. Open quarterfinals.
"She has the crowd in the palm of her hands," Bennett observed. "It's a thrill for me to see an instant star, from out of nowhere, no one knew who she was or anything, and then to have everybody for her immediately. I never saw anybody communicate so much.
"She's going to be a permanent star."
That's good news, going forward, but unlike Austin and Williams, Oudin will not be hoisting the sterling trophy -- at least not this time.
Her breathtaking run came to a sad and awkward end Wednesday night. No. 9 seed Caroline Wozniacki, the great Dane who also was playing her first career Grand Slam quarterfinal, sent Oudin back to Marietta, Ga., with a 6-2, 6-2 defeat.
Oudin made only 11 winners and committed 43 unforced errors, a disastrous ratio.
After winning her first four matches, all against Russians, Oudin seemed unnerved by the occasion of her first night match at Arthur Ashe Stadium. In nine days, she had become the darling of the overflow crowds here and, finally, the enormity of her achievement appeared to seep into her consciousness.
"There's ups and downs I think to all of it," Oudin said of the enormous attention that comes with success. "It's just different for me, because I haven't had to handle anything like that before. So I'm sure that I'll get used to it. I just need to -- this was a good starting point for me, though, like learning about it and seeing how it will be like if you keep doing well."
There will be more waves for Oudin as the news of her parents' divorce reverberates.
According to an SI.com story, records from Cobb County (Ga.) Superior Court show that Melanie's father, John, filed for divorce from Melanie's mother, Leslie, on July 24, 2008.
In his initial complaint, John Oudin filed for divorce on grounds of adultery. In her response to the complaint, dated Aug. 12, 2008, Leslie Oudin denied the allegation. In a sworn statement made two days earlier, John Oudin specifically alleged that his wife had been unfaithful with Melanie's coach, Brian de Villiers.
Wozniacki, who has won 10 consecutive matches and plays anonymous Belgian Yanina Wickmayer in the semifinals, was typically gracious after the quarterfinal match.
"Melanie played a great match today," she said. "And I'm sorry that I won against Melanie today. I know you wanted her to win.
"I've never passed the fourth round so far. Now I'm in the semifinals. I hope I can win my next match."
After rallying to win after dropping the first set three times in a row, Oudin looked spent. Although she has been the revelation of this 129th U.S. Open, the sudden pressure that comes with success -- and celebrity -- has been a revelation to her.
Oudin has had to employ security guards to protect her when she makes the short walk from the locker room to the practice courts. Her 15-year-old boyfriend, Austin Smith, has been the subject of a Page Six story in the New York Post -- Ou can believe in her love! She has been scheduled as a guest on "The Tonight Show" and "Ellen." Coach de Villiers admitted Tuesday that the stress was affecting his athlete.
The story of her eviction from a Times Square hotel is already starting to sound like the stuff of legend. On Sunday, when her reservation had lapsed -- Who would have predicted anything longer than a week's stay? -- her family declined to pay the hotel's doubled price and moved a few blocks away. Oudin is sharing a king-size bed with her mother.
Coming into this event, Oudin had won a total of $245,371 since turning pro last year. She leaves with $175,000 for making the quarterfinals and a ranking of about No. 50 as the third-ranked American woman after the Williams sisters.
"It mainly was being able to fight when it got close and under pressure," Oudin said of her tear through the draw. "And even when I was down being able to come back and just knowing, in all of these matches. Getting tons of experience with getting down, a set down in all of these matches, that I knew that I could come back and I could do it.
"And now I can compete with -- I've played top 10 former No. 1 players this tournament, I've played any kind of player, and I've been able to do well. So it gives me a lot of confidence."
Five things we learned on Day 10
1. It's time for Evan King to go back to school: When the 17-year-old Chicagoan won his first-round match in the junior boys' tournament Tuesday, his USTA coach, Mike Sell, joked that he was trying to avoid doing schoolwork.
Indeed, King -- who was heavily recruited out of high school -- is missing his first week of class at the University of Michigan. But after losing his second-round match to Marton Fucsovics of Hungary, 6-2, 6-3, then his doubles match with partner Denis Kudla, King suddenly has a free schedule.
Chase Buchanan, 18, of Columbus, Ohio, was the youngest player in the men's main draw. Now, playing guys his own age, he's through to the third round after a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Hiroyasu Ehara of Japan.
Lauren Davis, a 15-year-old high school sophomore from the Cleveland area, beat No. 3 seed Timea Babos of Hungary, 1-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4. She has won the national girls' 16s two years in a row and is working on a 39-match winning streak in juniors.
2. Pound for pound, person for person, Belgium is getting it done: Belgium, that cloistered little nation of 10 million souls, has produced half of the women's semifinalists at this U.S. Open.
"Yeah, of course you're always a little bit surprised of winning great matches in a Grand Slam," Wickmayer said. "When you get to the third, fourth round, you start surprising yourself. But actually, I've been staying pretty calm."
3. Venus Williams is a gamer: Despite that nagging patella tendinitis, Venus soldiered on Wednesday. She and sister Serena advanced to the semifinals of women's doubles with a 7-5, 6-4 victory over No. 11 seeds Zi Yan and Jie Zheng.
4. Youth is being (over) served: When all those top seeds went whistling out of the women's draw -- this is the first time in the Open era that only one seed reached the U.S. Open quarterfinals -- it created some space for the up-and-coming teenagers. Melanie Oudin (17), Caroline Wozniacki (19) and Yanina Wickmayer (19) all crashed through for their first career major quarterfinal appearances.
5. At least in Flushing, it's a left-handed world: More than 90 percent of the world's population is right-handed. But somehow two lefties -- Rafael Nadal and Fernando Verdasco -- snuck into the men's quarters. Last year, Nadal and Gilles Muller gave the lefties another 25 percent representation.
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
Djokovic returns to final four
It's been a rough year for Novak Djokovic after winning his first major and rising to No. 3 in the world in 2008.
He has been surpassed by Andy Murray in the rankings and failed to reach the semifinals in the season's first three Grand Slams. His grinding, 3-hour, 5-minute 7-6 (2), 1-6, 7-5, 6-2 victory over Fernando Verdasco on Wednesday no doubt will leave a pleasant taste in his mouth at the end of this long journey.
"Now that I've done it, I feel kind of a relief," Djokovic said afterward. "It feels great. I mean, I haven't done that in the past three Grand Slams this year, so mentally it was very important for me to overcome today's challenge."
"I hope I just can continue playing well and challenge eventually Federer if he gets to the semifinal," Djokovic said of their potential match Saturday.
Why would he want to play Federer? Djokovic has lost eight of his 12 matches with the No. 1-ranked player, but a closer look reveals that Djokovic has won two of their three matches this year. He prevailed in three-set matches in Miami -- remember the moment Federer cracked his racket in frustration? -- and Rome and lost in straight sets last month in Cincinnati.
"If I play with Roger, we don't need to talk a lot about him," Djokovic said. "His records in U.S. Open, we all know his style of the game. I have been playing against him many, many times.
"There is no secrets in each other's game, so I just -- it's a matter of [a] good day."
Tweets of the day
Clijsterskim: Morning! Just back from our breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien -- I love their fresh organic food -- yum! Taking a day off today for shopping!
Bryanbros: Luckily I don't own a gun or I would have been dead 2 hours ago. Might go check out the Empire State Building later ... Maybe I can jump off?
TravisParrott: First Grand Slam final! We took out the number one seeds Huber/Bhupathi 63-64. Finals against Black/Paes 11a.m. Thursday.
Tim Henman: Gutted for Andy
Bryan Brothers bow out
The Bryan Brothers are the No. 1-ranked doubles team in the world, but they've been scuffling (by their lofty standards) since winning the Australian Open in January.
They lost in the semifinals at Roland Garros, then fell in the final at Wimbledon. Several weeks ago in Cincinnati, they held match point in a super tiebreaker, leading Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic 9-4. They lost, 15-13.
Trailing the team of Leander Paes and Lukas Dlouhy 5-0 in the men's doubles semifinal in a conventional tiebreaker Wednesday, Mike Bryan was hoping to see the "karma reverse." The Bryans rallied to draw even at 6-all, but wound up losing the last frame 8-6.
"That's doubles," Mike said afterward. "It can go either way. We wanted to win the last Slam, we wanted to go out with a bang you can't let it go to 6-6 in the third.
On the last point, the Bryans played very cautiously, and Paes crept in for a backhand volley between the brothers for a winner.
"Wish I had grew some sack," Bryan said, explaining parenthetically to six reporters that he meant he wished he had been more aggressive.
And now, the main singles and doubles draws are completely devoid of American men.
"We always say, 'We're the last Americans standing' when we play in a final," Bryan said. "We've been there before."
Marin Cilic versus Juan Martin del Potro: At this level, experience becomes more important. After failing in four previous fourth-round major matches, Cilic came through in the fifth. Del Potro, however, is in his fourth Grand Slam quarterfinal in five tries.
ESPN.com prediction: Del Potro in five.
ESPN.com prediction: Nadal in four.