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Oudin puts former champ Sharapova out

September 06, 2009 08:44 IST
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Flushing Meadows shook with an explosion of deafening roars on Saturday as American teenage sensation Melanie Oudin sent former champion Maria Sharapova spinning out of the US Open.

The 17-year-old Oudin had the honour of ringing the opening bell at the NASDAQ exchange earlier this week and her stock rose even higher on day six of the championships as she carved out a heart-pounding 3-6, 6-4, 7-5 third-round win over the Russian.

"I just kept fighting as hard as I could. I can't believe it," the 70th-ranked Oudin gasped in a courtside interview as she tried to blink back tears.

Novak Djokovic also rubbed his eyes in disbelief as he was almost pulled apart by a player who had never won a tour match before this week. American Jessie Witten valiently battled for almost 3-1/2 hours before succumbing 6-7, 6-3, 7-6, 6-4.

"I have never seen him play, and then suddenly he comes up with those shots from the baseline and then returns. It was unbelievable," said the Serbian fourth seed.

Five-times champion Federer came into the match riding a 13-match winning streak against Lleyton Hewitt but had to snap himself out of a lull to triumph 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4.

While Witten had no choice but to accept his near-miss, Oudin followed up her win over world number four Elena Dementieva by thumping another Russian, 29th seed Sharapova.

Sealing the three-hour triumph by blasting a forehand winner, a wide-eyed Oudin dropped her racket and held her head as 23,000 hollering fans leapt to their feet to give her a standing ovation on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

"Getting to play Maria today was an unbelievable experience for me. I just had a blast playing there today," said Oudin, who will aim to bump another Russian, Nadia Petrova, in the last 16.

A misfiring Sharapova turned into her own worst enemy as she slammed down a jaw-dropping 21 double faults, handing her opponent more than five games in free points.

While the American said it would be "unbelievable" if her idol Justine Henin had taken note of her exploits, chances are that Oudin's name will now be on the lips of millions more people around the world.

As the women's draw continued to be decimated, the men kept up their impressive run, with all 16 top seeds reaching at least the third round of a grand slam for the first time.

Seeds Nikolay Davydenko (8), Fernando Verdasco (10), Robin Soderling (12) and Radek Stepanek (15) all maintained the momentum by advancing to the fourth round.

Federer and Hewitt are two of just three fathers ranked in world's top 50 and it was the Swiss who was caught napping in the opening set, leading John McEnroe to quip: "Looks like he slept in the same room as the (six-week-old) twins last night."

INSPIRED DISPLAY

But the scorching conditions on Arthur Ashe Stadium, and Hewitt's inspired display, soon woke up top seed Federer.

After spraying 23 unforced errors to lose the first set, a free-flowing Federer found his footing -- except for a freakish fall midway through the third set.

Charging toward the net, Federer's right ankle buckled under him and he tumbled over on to his hands and knees. After crawling forward a couple of steps, a grinning Federer got back up on his feet and held up his hand as if to say: "I may be down but I'm certainly not out."

It was not long before Hewitt's role turned into that of an admiring spectator as the world number one flashed and flicked away an array of spell-binding winners to seal victory.

"When he is able to play the way he wants to play and dictate terms, he's going to be very tough to beat," said Hewitt, who converted only three of 14 break points.

Federer, holder of a record 15 grand slam titles, added: "With a great streak I have against him, I knew that if I get back into the match then I could get back on a roll because I've had it so many times against him."

Being on a roll is something Witten had never experienced before this week.

Struggling to make ends meet on the lower echelons of tennis the 26-year-old came close to quitting the sport earlier this year. Things went from bad to worse on the eve of the Open as he became a victim of the global credit crunch when he was dropped by his clothing sponsor.

But handed a wildcard into the qualifying draw here, the 276th ranked Witten has made the most of his opportunity to get some free laundry done at the expense of U.S. Open organisers.

Domestic chores aside, for over an hour he responded to the rhythmic chants of "Jess-ie, Jess-ie" ringing around Louis Armstrong Stadium as he tormented a racket-bashing Djokovic.

In the end, he did not have the firepower to subdue the Serb, who applauded Witten's heroics before telling the crowd: "It was hard to tell who was the number four player out there."

"Once I started playing... you don't really think of the rankings. You're thinking strategy more than numbers," said Witten, who had to request almost two dozen tickets from the organisers to satisfy the demands of his friends and family.

Despite his defeat, Witten hoped the biggest payday of his career -- $48,000 for reaching the last 32 - will allow him to prolong his career for "at least the rest of the year."

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