The Oudin phenomenon has hit this past week at the U.S. Open tennis tournament, and her path is mingling with the paths of Venus and Serena Williams, her heroes, at the biggest tennis stadium in the world, named after Arthur Ashe.
If we get the match that we seem headed for, Serena Williams against Oudin Saturday in the final, it could be a monumental moment for tennis, a celebration about cultural and societal advancements.
This is to lay down the gauntlet to tennis fans, Oudin fans, Williams fans, to make sure that this is a great moment, and not the opposite with hard feelings, racial tensions and bitterness.
Here, bluntly, is the concern: How much of Oudin's sudden popularity is that she's the Great White Hope?
She is already being portrayed as the All-American girl. The Williams sisters, despite all they've done, never seem to be fully looked at that way.
I can sit here and pretend that this stuff is all in the past. But even today, the Williams sisters will not play a tournament in Indian Wells, California, boycotting because their family said it heard racist comments from fans in the stands.
I'm not trying to stir anything up here. Instead, it's quite the opposite.
I could sense the vibe the other day when Venus lost to Kim Clijsters. Here was Venus on her home court, her home turf. But the crowd was pulling for Clijsters, who's from Belgium, despite having little vested in her.
Richard Williams, the sisters' father, has never been accepted.
Every column I write about women's tennis, it seems, ends up with comments or emails from readers that turn the discussion to race, and oftentimes devolving into something ugly for or against the sisters.
And it's an open secret in tennis that Serena Williams fans resent Maria Sharapova, with the feeling that much of her popularity and huge endorsement dollars come from fitting the white ideal, tall, thin and blonde.
She's a giant Barbie Doll. Serena, the world's best player, is not.
I mentioned this to two USTA officials the other day, and both just nodded.
I haven't seen any hard evidence of problems with the racial dynamic between Oudin and the Williams sisters. But this is the stuff churning under the surface.
This is a chance for a sport without the best record on race and inclusion to really make a grand statement, if willing.
I suspect that if Williams plays Oudin, the crowd will be strongly for Oudin. If she gets an early lead, it will sound like a home crowd watching its team winning in the World Series.
And how would Williams fans interpret that support for Oudin?
There are so many things tied up in this Oudin phenomenon.
At 17, she has taken over the U.S. Open because she's the classic underdog, a cute, young girl from small-town America -- Marietta, Georgia -- emerging to out-bulldog the game's top players. And at 5-foot-6, she keeps chopping down one large, powerful Russian player after another.
I wonder how many people, tired of the Williams sisters, have been waiting for a player like Oudin, the next Tracy Austin or Chris Evert.
And how many feel the Williams sisters have never been able to stop fighting the same battles, and aren't going to be happy seeing Oudin getting the attention.
"Hasn't really affected me," Oudin said, when asked about a perception that she's here to replace the Williams sisters. "I told you before, I don't really pay attention to what other people say. I think that it's really cool to be called the third-best American behind the Williams sisters.
"That's just incredible, since I've watched them since I was a little girl. They've been like my idols. I'm really proud of that, to be the third-best American."
The third-best American woman tennis player. For years, that would have sounded like a joke. Third fastest in a race of two.
This is turf the Williams sisters have been burdened with for years, being the only faces and voices of American tennis. They are the leaders.
Now, there's a new face. Is that going to be OK?
Oudin is not to the level of the Williams sisters yet, anyway. She hasn't paid the dues, has never had anyone dislike her, didn't have to fight an establishment. I don't think she would be any match for Serena in a final.
Her mom looks like a typical tennis mom, fit, thin and blonde. And contrast that to how people see Richard Williams.
Ten days ago, no one knew who Oudin was. Now, already her agent told The New York Times that the phone keeps ringing.
"All the apparel manufacturers and racquet manufacturers," agent Sam Duvall said, "want the next best American."
How much does race factor into that?
It was clear when Sharapova was the new face, Serena Williams fans did not like it. If I write anything positive about Sharapova, even without mentioning the sisters, I'm hit with letters from angry Serena fans.
To me, Oudin is a fresh face, bringing art back to the game. She's tough as nails and a big surprise. Meanwhile, Venus is the ideal spokesperson for the game, elegant and eloquent. And while I don't think Serena has lived fully up to her potential, that's only because the bar is so high for her. Regardless, she means so much to the game and is an all-time great.
Venus said she wishes Oudin luck. Serena said she will be great. Oudin has said that when she was 10 or 11, she went to the Open as a fan to see the Williams sisters play.
They have not spoken to each other.
When asked how she felt about Oudin idolizing Williams when she was growing up, Serena said, "Yeah, I don't think about it. I feel like I'm super young and they might have been watching someone else."
This is going to be interesting, especially if Saturday comes with the big matchup. It could be a special, important and harmonious moment. Here's to hoping that people will be cheering for something, and not against.
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