Teen Ga. Phenom Takes U.S. Open By Storm

The player to watch at this U.S. Open has been the unsuspecting 17-year-old Melanie Oudin. Ranked 70th in the world, the Marietta, Ga., teen has battled her way to the quarterfinals. Former tennis pro and U.S. Open commentator Mary Joe Fernandez says Oudin has become "America's sweetheart overnight."

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

At the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament the widest smile these days belongs to a 17-year-old American player who seems to have come from nowhere, Melanie Oudin. Oudin has vanquished four Russian players to advance to the quarterfinals. She's the youngest woman to do so since Serena Williams in 1999. Here she is after she knocked off the 12th seed, Nadia Petrova, yesterday.

Ms. MELANIE OUDIN (Tennis Player): You know, it's kind of hard to explain how I've done it. It's - we play - there are no fears because I believed that I could do it and that's like, now I know that I do belong here and this is what I want to do. And I can compete with these girls, no matter who I'm playing, you know. I have a chance against anyone.

BLOCK: Melanie Oudin has been dazzling tennis fans at the U.S. Open with her grit and flair and speed across the court. Former tennis pro Mary Jo Fernandez has been watching and doing television commentary at the Open. She joins us from Arthur Ashe Stadium at Flushing Meadows. And Ms. Fernandez, when you watch Melanie Oudin play what are you seeing in this 17-year-old girl?

Ms. MARY JOE FERNANDEZ (Tennis Player): Oh, I am seeing so much grit, so much tenacity, a huge fighting spirit. It's just been outstanding and really she's become America's sweetheart overnight.

BLOCK: She's from Marietta, Georgia. She's playing with a taped-up thigh. Her opponents - a lot of them are towering over her - she's only 5'6" - but that has not held her back in any way.

Ms. FERNANDEZ: No, it sure doesn't. I mean one of the things that stands out with Melanie is her attitude to me. She comes to play no matter who's on the other side of the court, and she can do a lot of things out there, you know. People who are watching her and they say, wow, she's really quick. Well, she's got variety. She's got a one-handed backhand. She can slice sometimes, the two-handed is very solid, but the forehand is quite the powerful shot and the one that she looks to hit.

BLOCK: She also has a huge advantage. The crowd is so much behind her. She's getting standing ovations. She's clearly got them won over.

Ms. FERNANDEZ: Yes. The crowd has totally embraced Melanie and it's hard not to. I mean, she's quite the personality. She shows her emotions. She pumps her fists. And she's become an overnight sensation, and they love her here.

BLOCK: It looks like every time she wins a point, you can see her saying come on, right after it when she's got it.

Ms. FERNANDEZ: Yeah, I know, it's great, because you like to see that. I mean as a fan and as a viewer, you want to get involved in the match, and she really allows you to do that because you almost feel like you're playing every point with her.

BLOCK: You know, she now apparently has to have security guards with her as she moves around New York. Mary Joe Fernandez, you know very well what it's like to be a young player on a very big stage. Do you have any advice for Melanie Oudin?

Ms. FERNANDEZ: Well, the most important thing is to keep every thing in perspective, and I think she's got a really good head on her shoulders. She's got good family and friends around her. But, you know, it's tough in the beginning and she has gone from walking down the streets and no one recognizing her to now, she does have to walk with security around the U.S. Open because everybody wants her autograph, wants to take a picture with her, so life has changed. But I think she's not going to change which is the most important thing.

BLOCK: Can you imagine an all-American Women's Finals, Serena Williams against Melanie Oudin?

Ms. FERNANDEZ: That would be outstanding and I can imagine it. She's got a long way to go but the matches in the top half of the draw are winnable matches. She plays another young teenager in Wozniacki from Denmark, who is playing in her first quarterfinal match at a major. So it's going to be tough, but, you know, Melanie has proven that nothing is impossible, and we will just have to see, but that would be a dream come true for sure.

BLOCK: And they've been playing the Beatle song "I Saw Her Standing There" at Flushing Meadows with the line: she was just 17, after her matches.

Ms. FERNANDEZ: Yes, very cute, very appropriate. And, you know, nowadays it's funny, you know, we've gone from seeing so many young stars to really now it's more of the veterans doing well and to have a teenager getting through to the quarterfinals from our country really gives us a boost and, I think, hopefully it will inspire many more to come.

BLOCK: Mary Joe Fernandez, thanks so much.

Ms. FERNANDEZ: You're welcome.

BLOCK: Mary Joe Fernandez is a former professional tennis player and a TV commentator for the U.S. Open.

(Soundbite of song, "I Saw Her Standing There")

Mr. PAUL MCCARTNEY (The Beatles): (Singing) Well, she was just 17, you know what I mean, and the way she looked was way beyond compare. So how could I dance with another? Ooh.

(Soundbite of music)

ADAMS: Your letters and a story about a word that's migrated from an insult to obscenity. That's ahead on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

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