10 September, 2009

The Little Engine That Did

Most of the time when it comes to blogging, I think of something, usually for quite some time, eventually conjuring some thousand-word piece, because (I feel) I have something to say. Because it’s important! And it must be shared! Well, this one was a little different in that I didn’t think about it at all. No planning, no thinking; not overtly, anyway. While I feel it’s important -- and must be shared! -- this one’s right from the heart. I hope you enjoy.

I, as you may well know, am not a sport's fanatic -- my cousin John just laughed out loud at the understatement -- but when good sport is undeniable, I too undeniably watch.  For instance, I remember being glued to the TV for the now famous – and nearly eight-hour; eight hours! – Federer-Roddick Wimbledon Final; and, yeah, hell of a match. So I figured I’d enjoy watching a few more. After all, it’s several of the best players, over several consecutive days; a veritable feast of suspense in sport! How could I NOT enjoy watching a few more?

Well, enjoy it I have; no I've been loving it, thrilled by it, glued to the TV yet again. Why? Sure, Federer’s playing well. So are the Williams sisters. And The Queen’s Own Andy Murray. But you know that, right? Probably heard about them some more. But they’re not the reason I’ve been glued to the series. No, that honor goes to someone you may not have heard of, but certainly should have. A young lady named Melanie Oudin.

I don’t know if you’ve been following The Open at all, but Miss Oudin (pronounced ooo-DAN) has surprised everyone by steadily climbing the charts to the Quarterfinals. It all began a week ago when the 70th-seeded 17-year-old (and keep those two stats in mind) beat No.36 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the first round. A surprise to be sure; shocking even. But No.4 Elena Dementieva was next, and The Georgia-born-and-raised Oudin (her father is French, hence the name) didn’t even have a hotel reservation past the match. But beat Dementieva she did (and had to move hotels to accommodate). Then the third round brought No.31 (former No.1) Maria Sharapova. No way Oudin will beat her. Well, she did. And then in The Round Of 16 it was No.13 Nadia Petrova. “Match is over except for the playing,” they said! True. For Petrova. That all were Russian is a coincidence. That all were at least 34 seeds ahead of her (not to mention 3 to 8 inches taller with several years more experience) is something to talk about. She is The Little Engine That Could, that has, that is. And yesterday at 7:00 PM (EST), she played No.9 Caroline Wozniacki in the 2009 Quarterfinals, the farthest she’d ever progressed in any major tournament.

I wish I could say that Oudin won, but she didn’t. In fact, the powerhouse Wozniacki played extremely well, beating Oudin in the first two sets by a fairly wide margin. It was the kind of match that everyone expected from Pavlyuchenkova in Round 1, and Dementieva in Round 2, and Sharapova in Round 3, and Petrova in The 16. Where Oudin was expected to just show up in The 2009 U.S. Open, play as well as she could, and go home gracefully, it wasn’t until The Quarterfinals of the Grand Slam Match that she was outplayed by a better player. Fairly? Yes. But anyone that saw yesterday’s match saw that uncertain and just a little bit fearful look in Wozniacki’s eyes when she stepped onto the court. And you had to respect that she didn’t give Oudin anything; believing, as we all did, that Oudin could very well clutch the win away from her.

And “believe” is the word of the series, right down to the word literally printed on Melanie Oudin’s shoe; a battle cry to her opponents, just as much as a prayer of her own. And for those of us watching, a rallying chant that we came to … well, believe as we watched her win again and again, all the way through the valiant effort in yesterday’s Quarterfinals, knowing that it was not the end of her run in a Grand Slam Match, but just the beginning. Because if you think that this was a fluke, just a storybook tale, that that Little Engine won’t be back, with more determination, not to mention more experience, with more drive to go even further, then you never saw her play. You never saw her win. When everyone believed she wouldn’t, and grew to believe that she could. And you didn’t see her when she lost yesterday’s match, and instead of sadness or anger, there was, far more prevalent, burning in her eyes, the very determination that this WAS just the beginning.

Something we now ALL believe.

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