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she was just 17

Melanie Oudin’s Home-Court Advantage

It's not exactly a surprise that Melanie Oudin has become the story of the women's bracket at Flushing Meadows. She's a 17-year-old American underdog — basically a hat trick of likable qualities, at least to a U.S. Open crowd. But it is pretty amazing that her rise from a promising young player to a bona fide center-court drawing card took all of five days.

And let there be no doubt, she is a draw. After she rallied to win yesterday against Nadia Petrova, the crowd at Ashe began to thin out. People were less interested, it seems, in sticking around for some guy named Federer (though the fact he won again in straight sets probably contributed to all the empty seats). Not only was the crowd there to see Oudin, it was vocal. Every few points brought another outburst of "Go, Melanie, go!" and, "We believe, Melanie!" And while Petrova is a relative unknown, fans were equally united behind Oudin on Saturday, when she took down popular past champion Maria Sharapova.

From an American fan's point of view, the timing couldn't have been better: Venus Williams was eliminated from the tournament on Sunday, and John Isner would be defeated on the men's side not long after Oudin's match ended, leaving Serena Williams as the only other American standing. All of the halfhearted "USA, USA" chants heard in Armstrong during Isner's match yesterday should have just been saved for the women's round of eight, where they can be put to better use.

This isn't to say that Oudin completely came out of nowhere: She advanced to the fourth round at Wimbledon, knocking off Jelena Jankovic along the way. But here's guessing the children calling out her name yesterday — and there were an awful lot of little kids cheering for her — didn't really know that. All they needed to know that she was a 17-year-old American underdog. And also that she's approximately their height.

Her performance at Wimbledon and now the U.S. Open would indicate she's no flash in the pan. And in a wacky women's bracket where anything's possible, who knows how far she may go this week. (Next up is ninth seed Caroline Wozniacki, who advanced to the quarters by beating Svetlana Kuznetsova during the night session.) After fist-pumping her way past Petrova, Oudin said she planned to watch the Wozniacki-Kuznetsova match, but would celebrate later, too. With a frosty glass of milk, we're sure.

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Photo: Getty Images