NEW YORK — Melanie Oudin’s face was flushed from a mix of exertion and excitement and maybe even a bit of bewilderment after her upset of Maria Sharapova when she stepped out of the U.S. Open locker room and saw Mom.
The pair embraced, kissed each other on the cheek, and Leslie Oudin told her 17-year-old daughter: “I’m very proud of you.” Then they hugged some more, holding tight.
Melanie Oudin is still very much a kid from Marietta, Ga., enjoying the trip of her life in the Big Apple, playing foosball in the players’ lounge and using words like “amazing” and “cool” as she works her dizzying way through the draw at Flushing Meadows. Oudin’s latest win was the biggest so far: She knocked off three-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1 Sharapova 3-6, 6-4, 7-5 Saturday to reach the U.S. Open’s fourth round.
Several hours later, on the same court, another unheralded American who has lived in Georgia pulled off another upset of a past U.S. Open champion: 55th-ranked John Isner pounded 38 aces and eliminated No. 5 Andy Roddick 7-6 (3), 6-3, 3-6, 5-7, 7-6 (5) to reach the fourth round at a major tournament for the first time.
“It’s obviously, hands down, the biggest win of my career. Nothing even compares. To do it at the stage I did it on is pretty spectacular. Maybe it will sink in a little bit more tomorrow,” said Isner, who led the Georgia Bulldogs to the 2007 NCAA team championship. “But I know I can really do some damage here. So I’m not satisfied just yet.”
Roddick is the first of the top 16 men to lose this week. He won the 2003 Open and came oh-so-close to winning Wimbledon in July, but he now must resume his pursuit of a second career major title next year.
Instead, it’s the six-foot-nine Isner who moves on, thanks to some outstanding serving and success at the net: He won 42 of 67 points when he pushed forward.
Oudin’s match immediately preceded Isner’s, and her performance pumped him up.
“She plays with her heart out there,” Isner said. “We really kind of have the same attributes. We fight really well. Although she didn’t go to college, I think we got a little Bulldog in us. She’s a little Bulldog. She’s feisty.”
Sharapova double-faulted 21 times, the most by a woman in any 2009 tour match. But the five-foot-six Oudin’s solid groundstrokes and tremendous court coverage — all those small, squeaky steps — and veteran-like presence played significant roles, too.
So, perhaps, did the partisan fans, who began hootin’ and hollerin’ to celebrate their girl’s victory right as her racket met the ball on the clinching forehand winner.
“I try to pretend that it’s not, like, Arthur Ashe Stadium, playing Maria Sharapova. I try to just pretend it’s any other match — even just practising. Sometimes I tell myself I’m just practising at my academy at home, and I’m just playing one of my friends,” Oudin said. “So it’s not a big deal.”
In men’s action 276th-ranked Jesse Witten of Naples, Fla., almost managed to pull off a similar stunner against No. 4 Novak Djokovic.
Witten won one set, and had chances to take another, before losing 6-7 (2), 6-3, 7-6 (2), 6-3.
“I wasn’t getting outplayed too much,” said Witten, 0-6 in tour-level matches before this week. “I felt like I was right at home a little bit.”
Elsewhere, No. 1 Roger Federer, who overcame a sloppy first set and tumble to the court to beat two-time major champion Lleyton Hewitt 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4.
Federer has won 14 consecutive matches against Hewitt, and 37 in a row at Flushing Meadows.
“I knew that being down a set against Lleyton is always going to be a difficult situation for me to be in: Make one more mistake and I’m in the fifth set, maybe, or I go down completely,” said Federer, trying to become the first man since the 1920s to win the American Grand Slam tournament six consecutive years. “So I was relieved coming through.”
Also into the fourth round: No. 8 Nikolay Davydenko, No. 10 Fernando Verdasco and French Open runner-up Robin Soderling, who beat No. 22 Sam Querrey of the United States 6-2, 7-5, 6-7 (6), 6-1.
Oudin has done this sort of thing before. Well, once before: She got to Wimbledon’s fourth round this year by defeating former No. 1 Jelena Jankovic. After that match, Jankovic harrumphed that Oudin “cannot hurt you with anything; she doesn’t have any weapons.”
Sharapova disagreed. The 2006 U.S. Open champion was seeded 29th and has yet to fully rebuild her game after shoulder surgery in October, yet is far more experienced in these kinds of matters.
“Got to hand it to her,” Sharapova said.
“She really stuck to her game plan. She played solid. She made me hit a lot of balls.”