US Open 2009: 'little Road Runner' Melanie Oudin aims high after Maria Sharapova shock

While Oudin is 5ft 6in, Isner is 6ft 9in, and that is when he is wearing socks, so, from up there, he would struggle to read any inspirational slogans on his footwear.

The Labor Day Weekend of this US Open will be remembered for two American players, one little and one large. Oudin, a 17 year-old from Marietta in Georgia who can barely see over the net of the Arthur Ashe Stadium, has taken inspiration from how Belgium's Justine Henin, who is an inch shorter than her, won multiple grand slam titles. Henin proved that "you don't have to be tall to win things". Oudin, the world No 70, has been beating tall Russians in New York, as she followed up her second-round defeat of Elena Dementieva, the 5ft 11in Olympic champion and world No 4, with a third-round victory over Maria Sharapova, a former world No 1 and US Open champion, who is eight inches taller than her.

On Monday, she plays yet another Russian, the 5ft 10in Nadia Petrova. "A little Road Runner" is what John McEnroe has been calling the teenager.

Isner's five-set, third-round defeat of Andy Roddick, the 2003 US Open champion and the runner-up to Roger Federer at this summer's Wimbledon, was the first genuine surprise in the men's tournament. On the main tour, the only player taller than Isner is the 6ft 10in Ivo Karlovic.

In the Arthur Ashe Stadium, Isner generated extraordinary pace and bounce with his serve, and hit 38 aces. When they shook hands at the net, after Isner's 7-6, 6-3, 3-6, 5-7, 7-6 win, the 6ft 2in Roddick looked small. "You can't teach 6ft 9in, especially coming down on a serve," said Roddick. "You try to fight it off as much as you can. Sometimes you can, and sometimes it's out of your hands."

Isner beat the only American who appeared to have a genuine chance of winning this tournament. Isner, who next meets Spain's Fernando Verdasco, also plays an ugly brand of tennis. So you can understand why the American tennis public have been quicker to take to Oudin.

Oudin's lack of height has not been a problem for her so far; in fact, her size must have, in some way, contributed to her turning in such combative, energetic performances on the blue cement.

Oudin was not going to worry herself silly about Sharapova's celebrity and height. "She's just playing with such confidence now, and she thrives on playing in front of a lot of people," said Oudin's coach, Brian de Villiers. "Before she went on court to play Sharapova, she said, 'I can't let Sharapova intimidate me. I have to hold my ground'."

Of course, Oudin was greatly helped by Sharapova's malfunctioning serve. Sharapova hit 21 double faults during Oudin's 3-6, 6-4, 7-5 victory.

Oudin's results must have shown Britain's Laura Robson, 15, what is possible. When they played in the second round of last season's junior tournament at Wimbledon, Robson won in straight sets.

Oudin has risen quickly. It was at this summer's senior Wimbledon tournament that Oudin first made an impact on the women's game, as she came through qualifying and then beat Jelena Jankovic, a Serbian former world No 1, to reach the fourth round. When this tournament began, she was already the highest ranked American outside the Williams family. For the second slam in succession, Oudin is into the last 16.

If "the Little Road Runner" can strike the ball as well against Petrova, the world No 13, as she did against Dementieva and Sharapova, she could find herself into a slam quarter-final for the first time.

Maria Sharapova too quick for her own good

The problem for Maria Sharapova in New York City was that she was serving too quickly, that she could not take any pace off her second serves.

Sharapova double-faulted 21 times in her third-round defeat to Melanie Oudin, which meant she gave more than five games of free points to the American.

"I just couldn't decelerate today. I was hitting second serves no less than 95 miles per hour. I tried to hit it less and I just couldn't," said Sharapova. "Considering I couldn't hit a second serve lower than 95 mph, it was pretty difficult."

In truth, Sharapova has been struggling with her double faults for a while; this certainly was not the first time this season that she had got into double figures for double-faults in a match.

The double faults in the Arthur Ashe Stadium can, of course, be traced back to Sharapova's shoulder problems. When she came back to the tour in May, after a nine-month absence to repair her damaged shoulder, she returned with a remodelled service action. But getting used to that new action is not easy.

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