Pop Quiz. Name a female tennis player from the U.S. and an athlete whose last name is Witten. Let me guess, you picked Serena Williams and Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten?
Before today I probably would have too, but then I tuned into the afternoon matches at the U.S. Open and everything changed.
Ask me those questions now and I’ll answer Melanie Oudin and Jesse Witten, two unknown American tennis players who pulled off unlikely and amazing upsets this afternoon.
Witten has actually knocked off two formidable opponents so far, Igor Andreev, the 29th ranked player, in the first round, and today, Maximo Gonzalez, an Argentinean with one ATP doubles title under his belt. Before this year’s Open, Witten had never won an ATP match and was ranked 276th in the world. His success had mostly come in college, where he once reached the NCAA tennis finals as a Kentucky Wildcat.
Melanie Oudin may have beaten Jelena Jankovic at Wimbledon, but her victory today was still highly unlikely. Here’s why: she is 17, she is 5’6”, she is currently ranked 70th, and she has an injury in her left thigh that actually made her cry during the match.
But this afternoon she played like a giant, knocking off the Number 4 player in the world, Elena Dementieva. (In case you don’t know, Dementieva is an Olympic gold medalist and arguably the best hard court player in the women’s draw.)
One of the things I love about tennis upsets is that they make waves throughout the entire tournament. Here’s what I mean. If Dementieva had won today, she would have been matched up with the winner of a match between Maria Sharapova (returning from shoulder surgery) and Christina McHale (another 17-year-old American). That’s a pretty easy path through the fourth round for her. But with Dementieva out, the door is open for one of these unlikely players to get further than they expected.
And Witten’s victory sets up a fairly easy path for Novak Djokovic to reach the later rounds. But it’s often said that when players have less challenging opponents, they’re not as prepared for the harder matches. Djokovic is a real title contender, but if a match against Witten is too easy, he might not be up to the task of dealing with one of the tournament heavyweights.
And as if all that weren’t enough, apparently Melanie Oudin wears some pretty awesome shoes too.