'All of this has come so quickly'

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NEW YORK --- Melanie Oudin missed the junior prom.

Skipped homecoming, too.

And the 17-year-old isn't spending a lot of time hanging out with pals at the mall, either.

Then again, not one of the other kids back in Marietta, Ga., is preparing to play in the U.S. Open quarterfinals tonight.

"She doesn't do any of that kind of stuff -- and she's OK with it," Katherine Oudin said after sobbing in the stands when her twin sister pulled off a fourth consecutive upset victory at Flushing Meadows.

"I know she misses the normal life a little, but she does not regret it at all. Zero," Katherine said. "She's totally OK with it, because she knows this is what she's wanted her entire life."

That's a relative term, of course. When your "entire life" encompasses 17-plus years -- and you began playing tennis at 7, hitting balls out of a bucket with Grandma Mimi -- you haven't exactly been waiting forever for success. Indeed, Oudin is the youngest U.S. Open quarterfinalist since Serena Williams in 1999.

As the twins' mother, Leslie, put it: "All of this has come so quickly."

Sure has. A year ago, Oudin was ranked 221st and lost in the first round in New York. She never had won a Grand Slam match until Wimbledon in June. Nowadays, she high-fives security guards on her way into the locker room.

Everything is "awesome" and "cool," and she's "freaked out." Her stunning win over three-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova? "I just had a blast."

This is where Oudin wanted to be, dating to when she and her sister would play "mini-tennis" in the cul de sac by their home, piling up jackets as a makeshift net. Or when the twins would hit balls against the garage door until Katherine would get bored, leaving Melanie out there alone -- thwack! thwack! thwack! -- until Mom or Dad ushered her inside at nightfall.

Or when Melanie would watch the Williams sisters on TV and proclaim that she wanted to play in those big arenas, too. Look at her now: There are still shots to be made and matches to be won, for sure, but there is a possibility Oudin could play Serena Williams in Saturday night's U.S. Open final.

Oudin has been sharing a king-sized bed with Mom in a Manhattan hotel -- until, that is, they had to switch hotels because they hadn't reserved the room for long enough. Hey, who would have thought she'd still be playing? They've been waking up together when the alarm goes off, then going their separate ways: Melanie hops in a courtesy car provided for players; Mom waits in line for a shuttle bus to the tournament site in Queens.

Oudin is so new to all of this that her quarterfinal opponent tonight, No. 9-seeded Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark -- who is all of 19 -- joked about not being quite sure how to say Oudin's name.

For the record: It's "oo-DAN," on account of her father's French ancestry. Wozniacki is hardly the only one having trouble, though. Chair umpires and plenty of others bungle the pronunciation, too.

"Sometimes they get it wrong," Oudin said, "but I don't try to tell them anymore."

Not to worry. Keep this up, and it will be a household name soon enough.

QUARTERFINAL MATCH

WHO: Melanie Oudin, United States, vs. Caroline Wozniacki (9), Denmark

TIME/TV: 7 tonight/ESPN2

WHERE: USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, New York


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