Thursday September 3rd, 2009

NEW YORK -- Reaction to a clutch performance from an American teenager, along with more of your questions on Day 4 of the U.S. Open ...

Melanie Oudin hits pretty hard for a girl with an "inferior body." -- Matt, Richmond, Va.

• No kidding. You could argue that Elena Dementieva plays as well from the ground as anyone on tour. Yet Oudin not only hung with her but also dictated a good many points. You have to like the guts of a 17-year-old who holds match point to win the biggest affair of her life and clocks a line-licking service winner. Let's hold off on the inevitable Justine Henin comparisons, at least for a while. But that was a courageous performance.

Jon, can I get a shout-out for successfully stating that Dementieva would crash in the second round? -- Matt McNama, Toronto

• Props. Again, all credit to Oudin, but what a brutal loss for Dementieva. You beat Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova in Toronto and come to New York as a real contender, if not a favorite. Then, less than two weeks later, on the same surface, you lose to a 17-year-old? Dementieva has a finite number of chances left to win that elusive first major and no positive gloss can be applied to this loss.

Aside: Per our discussion Wednesday about players barely deigning to acknowledge the chair umpire, I noted that Dementieva, seconds after a stinging defeat, looked the chair in the eye, gave a firm handshake and a heartfelt thanks. James Blake syndrome: nice human being but not exactly the first person you want in your foxhole.

Jon, did you notice Roger Federer won the third set of the opening match and the last two sets of the second round at 7-5? Do you think he is trying to get as much practice and on-court time as possible? I guess he tests them first and then he tries what he can to stay on court and practice. What do you think? -- Victor, Rome

• I think he's trying get out of there as fast as possible. The first week of a Slam is about rationing energy. Trust me, Federer is not looking for additional practice time.

Jon, no question, just a comment. When a player is on the cusp of a straight-set win in Armstrong, the flocks of kids who carry their extra-big tennis balls down to courtside seem a lot like circling vultures. -- Stewart Glickman, South Orange, N.J.

• Tune in next week for "Analogies Gone Wild!" I like a lot. Thanks, Stewart.

How exactly is Serena Williams good for the sport? When she shows up to play, she is easily the best player in the world (except for maybe Venus). But she ONLY shows up to play at the Slams. Anyone who has seen her in regular tour events this year can clearly see that her level of effort is like night and day between Slams and non-Slams. If I'm a fan and I've paid to see Serena play. I want to see her display the fight, hunger and attitude that win her Slams. If she can't try every time she's on the court, she shouldn't play at all. She'll probably win the U.S. Open -- but this is one fan who is shutting off women's tennis until she has retired. Good riddance! -- Joel, Vancouver, British Columbia

• Here's how Serena Williams is good for tennis: She, unlike virtually all of her colleagues, wins when it matters. The more I see performances like Dementieva's against Oudin, the more I appreciate Serena. Sure, from the line-judge staredown to the blowing off of TV interviewer Mary Joe Fernandez to the ritual gracelessness in defeat, there's some conduct most of us could do without. But she competes like crazy, she stares down adversity, she wins when it matters. As an athlete, that counts for plenty, at least in my book.

On Thursday, I tried to imagine her playing Melanie Oudin on Arthur Ashe Stadium in Round 2. Her losing that match is inconceivable. She simply wouldn't let it happen. You wish it weren't either/or, but I'll take that over the amiable choker.

I loved how Marat Safin defended his sister: Dinara is No. 1, so Serena (and Dinara critics) deal with it. Go make yourself your own rankings system that rewards double points for Grand Slam titles. Or you can excuse yourself from the WTA rankings if you don't believe in it. Just stop the trashing and the bashing and the insinuating. -- Peter Vincent Quetulio, Manila, Philippines

• I thought it was awfully poignant, too. Safin/Safina do not exactly rival the Bryans in closeness. Still, some big-brother instincts kicked in and, well, read it for yourself (last question).

I agree that Safina has taken a beating here, some of it unfairly. But is it not reasonable to question her bona fides? You have a No. 1 player who has never won a major, tightens up in big matches and has been eking out wins here. The No. 2 holds three major titles but falters at other events. Seems perfectly reasonable that fans would have opinions one way or the other.

It seems to me the women should want to get some of the late-night U.S. Open energy that's usually reserved for the men. Am I the only one who sees playing late as a good thing for the women? -- Pam, Amherst, N.Y.

• It's a good thing for everyone but the player who wins, gets back to the hotel at 3 a.m. and then has his (and now, potentially, her) circadian rhythms all messed up for the rest of the tournament.

In your Sept. 1 mailbag, you said Juan Martin del Potro has never been beyond a Slam quarterfinal. I'm a little surprised that his very memorable five-set semifinal against Federer in Roland Garros skipped your memory. In my opinion, he should be considered as a distant third favorite based on his excellent results coming into the U.S. Open. -- Ava Gonsales, Goa, India

• A whiff -- a bad whiff -- by me. And yes, he is a real candidate to win, especially if the conditions remain calm. I saw him destroy Juan Monaco on Wednesday and thought he looked as good as anyone.

• World TeamTennis has named industry veteran Bill Mountford senior vice president.

• The WTA Tour is returning to San Diego.

Paul of Indianapolis has long-lost siblings: Simon Greul and Steve Nash.

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