NEW YORK – As she negotiated the treacherous path toward life as a tennis professional, Melanie Oudin often pined for a "normal" life.
As a home-schooled seventh-grader, Oudin had to watch twin sister Katherine head off each day to a regular school with regular friends, freed from the sacrifices necessary to stand a chance of tennis success.
Yet after her remarkable journey through the first week of the U.S. Open, Oudin can forget about a normal life, at least anytime soon.
It's not normal for a 17-year-old to show the reserves of spirit, poise and level-headedness that Oudin displayed at Arthur Ashe Stadium. Sharapova put her through the wringer for three hours before running out of ideas.
It's not normal for a player ranked No. 70 in the world to be able to scheme, craft and build rallies with the guile of a veteran champion picking off another hapless victim.
And it's not normal, not these days at least, for an American woman not named Williams to capture the public imagination at this final Grand Slam of the year.
But Oudin, a feisty little package of courage and will, is not normal.
The stunned expression on Sharapova's face spoke volumes as the former U.S. Open champion was reduced to a bundle of double-faulting nerves, a quivering wreck that couldn't believe she was being decimated at her own ground-stroke game.
Oudin heads into the fourth round and a date with another Russian, 13th-seed Nadia Petrova, next week. Having beaten Jelena Jankovic at Wimbledon, and now Olympic champ Dementieva and Sharapova here, she needs to harbor no fear.
The secret to Oudin's success lies in her shoes. Not so much the garish creations that adorn her feet, but the words – "fearless" and "believe" – that are scribbled on them.
As if she needed any reminders. Oudin radiates courage and confidence and is a breath of fresh air to the women's game in so many ways.
She shows there is room in the game for a tenacious player who doesn't screech every time she strikes the ball, who doesn't take a backward step and who doesn't appear on the verge of tears every time things get tough.
Oudin's life is about to get a bit more abnormal. Suddenly she is being touted as the great new hope of American women's tennis, and she will have to deal with all of the attention that goes along with that tag.
Her ranking will soar on the back of this week's achievements, and Oudin is now firmly established as a player on the rise.
"It has been an amazing week," she said. "I have just tried to believe in myself and play my game.
"I know what great players they [Dementieva and Sharapova] are, but I just concentrated on doing what I do best."
Who knows how long the Oudin juggernaut can keep on rolling, but New York will enjoy the ride.