NEW YORK -- A few thoughts on the wild women's bracket and one "forgotten" defending champion before checking the mail ...
1. The clock hasn't struck midnight on those awful Cinderella references. Nor on Melanie Oudin. The "Marietta Munchkin," as a fan nearby called her, labored on Labor Day and won her fourth match -- all against Russian opponents -- to reach the quarterfinals. The 17-year-old rallied after a 1-6 first set to beat Nadia Petrova, improving to 17-4 this year in three-set matches.(Far be it from us to generalize, but can the Russian Federation spring for a Tony Robbins session?)
Oudin is proving what the Williams sisters already know: If you don't fear losing, you have a great weapon in today's WTA Tour.
"It's like now I know that I do belong here," she said Monday after winning the last two sets 7-6 (2), 6-3 against the 13th-seeded Petrova. "This is what I want to do, and I can compete with these girls no matter who I'm playing. I have a chance against anyone."
She gets her next chance Wednesday against ninth-seeded Caroline Wozniacki,who defeated French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova 2-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (3) in the night session.
2. If you're going to turn a tournament into the theater of the absurd, you may as well so do spectacularly. Two of the top five women's seeds -- Elena Dementieva and Jelena Jankovic -- were out by the second round. Maria Sharapova double-faulted 21 times in her third-round loss to Oudin, and Dinara Safina, the top seed, lost to a foe outside the top 50 (Petra Kvitova). And the hits keep coming. Vera (Crimea River) Zvonareva squandered a half-dozen match points and didn't win a game in the third set. Monday's first match saw Kataryna Bondarenko beat Gisela Dulko,the higher-ranked foe, 6-0, 6-0. Then another three-set win from Oudin, her third in a row. It's seldom pretty, but it's sure fun.
3. Among the women's soap-opera episodes, the Oudin cotillion, the upset of Andy Roddick, a topless Rafael Nadal and the return of Mama Mia Kim Clijsters, there's been scant room on stage for Roger Federer. But he keeps rolling, now three rounds from his sixth straight title after Monday's routine victory against Tommy Robredo. Nothing flashy, nothing dramatic, just winning.
Line of the day goes to Petrova, who had this exchange with a reporter following her match (and before Wozniacki and Kuznetsova played):
Reporter: [Oudin's] now beaten four tall Russians in this tournament. Is there anything to that?
Petrova: Well, now she gets hopefully a short and a little chubby Russian [Kuznetsova]. See how she's going to handle that.
I am really enjoying Melanie Oudin, but I was wondering how well received her screams of "Come on" would be if she were a black girl from Compton wearing beads. I am so glad that America has an opportunity to have a "mainstream" person to celebrate in tennis. I am black and I remember very well how the Williams sisters were treated. I can't wait to see the hypocrisy unfolds.-- Nicole, Chicago
• I hear what you're saying and I don't want to minimize your feelings. But I think there's some revisionist history here. Yes, there were some vocal critics and some snickering in the establishment; but when the Williams sisters broke through, they were largely adored. Go back and look at the generally glowing coverage. There were appearances on the morning shows and 60 Minutes segments. Venus was on the cover of Sports Illustrated when she reached the 1997 U.S. Open final. Serena was on the cover two years later. The prime-time women's final here was created solely because of the Williams-Williams popularity. The endorsement and exhibition offers were fast and furious.
Again, was there discontent in some precincts? Absolutely. And was some of it motivated by race? Almost assuredly. (In fairness, let's also note that Oudin's father never brayed about the rest of the field, "It was Melanie's party and no one else is invited," etc.) But overall -- and I try not to be naive about these things -- I think the Williams' emergence was welcomed with comparable enthusiasm.
How can the USTA explain how two American players (Andy Roddick and John Isner) can play on Saturday of Labor Day weekend and no network or regular cable channel is showing it (only Tennis Channel, which has only about five percent of the tennis-viewing public)?-- Becky, Houston
• Here's the deal: CBS pays the big bucks for the rights fees. As a result, the network gets the choice of matches for its telecasts. When the Saturday afternoon matches went long and Roddick-Isner went beyond the CBS window, Tennis Channel picked up the coverage. This was a boon to those who get the channel; it was agony for those who don't. The outrage should be with your cable operator.
Here's a thought: Players who won a career Grand Slam on grass, clay and hard courts are more versatile and worthy of accolades than those who have not. Agree or disagree? Not to take anything away from those in the past who won everything that was available at the time, but I say we're in an era for the last couple of decades -- with hard courts in the mix -- that makes a Grand Slam even more remarkable.-- Gabriel Buddenbrock, Tampa, Fla.
• Generally agree. I think, for instance, that Serena's French Open is a highlighted achievement on her résumé. And we saw that Federer's completion of the career Slam at the French this year meant just as much as the 15th major title.
Why was 21 double faults (a tour record) not enough to earn Maria Sharapova a C-rating in your midterm grades?-- Don, Europe
• Because she still nearly figured out a way to pull through.
Fourteen of the top 16 men's seeds are in the round of 16. This must be a record for a major. Do you know what is the previous record?-- Klaus, Vienna
• From the ATP Tour's Greg Sharko: "Fourteen of the top 16 seeds have advanced to the fourth round at the U.S. Open for the first time. The previous best was 13 seeds, in 1992. It also ties a Grand Slam mark of 14 seeds in the fourth round at the 2007 Australian Open."