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MALL CAN WAIT - STARDOM CALLS

Melanie Oudin puts teenage activities on hold for a stunning run at the U.S. Open.

NEW YORK - Melanie Oudin missed the junior prom.

Skipped homecoming, too.

And the 17-year-old isn't spending a lot of time hanging out with pals at the mall, either.

Then again, none of the other kids back in Marietta, Ga., is preparing to play No. 9-seeded Caroline Wozniacki in the U.S. Open quarterfinals tonight, likely around 7.

"She doesn't do any of that kind of stuff - and she's okay with it," Katherine Oudin said after her twin sister pulled off a fourth consecutive upset victory at Flushing Meadows.

"I know she misses the normal life a little, but she does not regret it at all. Zero," Katherine said. "She knows this is what she's wanted her entire life."

Oudin is the youngest U.S. Open quarterfinalist since Serena Williams in 1999. As the twins' mother, Leslie, put it: "All of this has come so quickly."

A year ago, Oudin was ranked 221st and lost in the first round in New York. She never had won a Grand Slam match until Wimbledon in June. Nowadays, she high-fives security guards on her way into the locker room.

Everything is "awesome" and "cool," and she's "freaked out." Her stunning win over three-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova? "I just had a blast."

This is where Oudin wanted to be, dating to when she and her sister would play "mini-tennis" in the cul de sac by their home, piling up jackets as a makeshift net. Or when the twins would hit balls against the garage door.

Or when Melanie would watch the Williams sisters on TV and proclaim that she wanted to play in those big arenas, too. There is a possibility Oudin (oo-DAN) could play Serena Williams in Saturday night's final. No. 2 Williams beat No. 10 Flavia Pennetta 6-4, 6-3, with a 21-9 edge in winners, and next faces Kim Clijsters.

Oudin has been sharing a king-sized bed with Mom in a Manhattan hotel - until, that is, they had to switch hotels because they hadn't reserved the room for long enough. Hey, who would have thought she'd still be playing? When the alarm goes off, Melanie hops in a courtesy car provided for players; Mom waits in line for a shuttle bus to the tournament site in Queens.

"Just because all of this is happening, it's not like I'm going to change (as a) person," Oudin said. "I just love to play tennis."

Oudin now needs security guards to navigate hordes of autograph-seekers. Crowds gather in the lobby of her hotel. A photo op in Times Square the other day got unruly. The evening news shows at ABC, CBS and NBC sent interview crews.

Oudin can't necessarily outhit anyone. Or outserve them, rarely approaching 100 mph and accumulating a paltry total of four aces through four matches. What Oudin does is outhustle other players, scurrying around in pink-and-yellow sneakers.

"Mentally, I'm staying in there with them the whole time, and I'm not giving up at all," she said. "If they're going to beat me, they're going to have to beat me. I'm not going to go anywhere."

NO. 2 MURRAY FALLS: Men's No. 2 seed Andy Murray lost in the fourth round, 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 to No. 16 Marin Cilic.

"I played poorly," Murray said. "I could have been better in pretty much every part of the game, whether it was mental or serve, forehand, backhand, returns."

Ahead 5-4, he wasted two set points. By the second set, Murray was grimacing while flexing his left wrist, which has bothered him for about a week.

"Regardless of my wrist, I lost the match," Murray said.

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FAST FACTS

Area connection

Melanie Oudin turned pro in February 2008, but at 16 was permitted to play 13 professional events last season. She chose to play in the junior draw of the four Grand Slams and reached the quarterfinals in the French and was the No. 1 seed at Wimbledon. She opened 2008 by reaching the semifinals of the $25,000 USTA Pro Circuit's Sheriff Jim Coats fourth annual Clearwater Open, where she lost 3-6, 6-4, 6-0 to Ukraine's Yevgenia Savranska.

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Key results

Men's fourth round: Marin Cilic (16) d. Andy Murray (2) 7-5, 6-2, 6-2; Juan Martin del Potro (6) d. Juan Carlos Ferrero (24) 6-3, 6-3, 6-3.

Women's quarterfinals: Serena Williams (2) d. Flavia Pennetta (10) 6-4, 6-3; Kim Clijsters d. Li Na (18) 6-2, 6-4.

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Today's key matches

Women's quarters: Melanie Oudin vs. Caroline Wozniacki (9).

Men's quarters: Roger Federer (1) vs. Robin Soderling (12); Novak Djokovic (4) vs. Fernando Verdasco (10).

TV: 11 a.m. and 7 p.m., ESPN2

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