Undersized, knobby-kneed and considered lazy. That's how people described one of the greatest sports underdogs of the 20th century. His name was Seabiscuit, and he went on to win the "match of the century" against favorite War Admiral at Pimlico during the height of the Depression.
Undersized, lacking a killer serve or volley, and inexperienced, Melanie Oudin's accomplishments don't yet rival Seabiscuit's but she's already stirring the public's imagination. Her victory Monday at the U.S. Open over the hard-hitting Nadia Petrova put her into the quarter-finals of a major for the first time.
Ms. Oudin's performance in Flushing Meadows lacks only two more victories (and perhaps a Cold War background) to make it complete. Her win against Ms. Petrova represented her third straight against top-seeded Russian women.
U.S. women's tennis is not in the sorry state of the U.S. men's, of course. The Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, are top players, and Serena may yet win the Open. But there's something extraordinary about seeing a 17-year-old nobody who would have had trouble making the top-200 rankings a year ago put on the kind of show Ms. Oudin has.
What's particularly captivating about the youngster's play is that it seems all grit and determination and focus (as well as outstanding baseline play). She may be only 5-foot, 6-inches tall but her heart is ginormous. It's as if she wants to win much more than her world-class opponents.
After the collapse of the real estate and finance industries, the government bailouts and the recession's job losses, the country could use a a little inspiration. Seventy years ago, people found it in a horse. A tenacious high-school tennnis player who refuses to give up could prove a worthy successor.