Zvonareva overcomes Oudin, crowd to advance

Vera Zvonareva defeated Melanie Oudin, 7-5, 6-2, at the Family Circle Cup on Friday to reach the semifinals. Zvonareva will play top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki today.

America's newest tennis sweetheart, 18-year-old Melanie Oudin, hails from just a state over in Georgia, a mere morning's drive from Stadium Court on Daniel Island.

In the quarterfinals of the Family Circle Cup on Saturday night, she faced Russian star Vera Zvonareva.

Guess which player the Stadium Court crowd threw its cheers behind?

"It was pretty tough out there," Zvonareva admitted after she overcame a partisan crowd and Oudin in a 7-5, 6-2 victory. "Sometimes I would hit a great shot, and I think it's a great point, and I don't have that many people cheering for me.

"But fair enough. She's a great player, and everyone is supporting her here, and I'm sure next time we're going to be playing in Moscow, and everyone is going to support me."

At 25 years old, with 10 career titles and almost $7 million in prize money in the bank, the No. 7-seeded Zvonareva was just a bit too savvy for Oudin, who in her own words is in her "sophomore year" on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour.

Zvonareva, who will face top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki in today's semifinals, ignored the crowd and confused Oudin with change-of-pace tactics that left her opponent spraying balls around the court.

"I started off well, and it was like all of a sudden she started changing the pace up on me a lot," said Oudin, who was seeded 13th after making the field as a qualifier last year.

"I felt like I could not get a rhythm ... the whole end of the first set and the whole beginning of the second set, I did not hit a clean ball, it felt like to me."

The pair battled evenly through the first 10 games of the first set, when Oudin faltered by mishitting a backhand, netting a forehand and double-faulting to hand Zvonareva a break and a 6-5 lead. Zvonareva won the set with a backhand Oudin could not reach, and a discouraged Oudin lost the first four games of the second set.

"I definitely got frustrated," Oudin said. "I was playing so well, and then all of a sudden I just couldn't hit a clean ball. Everything felt off to me. I started shanking. I would hit the tip of my racquet and all kinds of stuff."

Still, the week must be counted as a success for Oudin, who at No. 36 is the third-ranked American on tour, behind only Serena and Venus Williams. She's made at least the quarterfinals in three tournaments this year, pocketed $14,825 for her efforts this week and could be seeded at the French Open.

"The thing for me is I definitely take every tournament as a learning experience," she said.

"I know I'm still learning a lot. This is like my sophomore year on the tour, which is supposed to be the toughest, and so far I think I've been doing pretty well."