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NEW YORK, Sept 9 (Reuters) - Melanie Oudin's magical run through the U.S. Open ended in a heap of unforced errors in Wednesday's quarter-final yet life will never be the same again for the 17-year-old American who became the tournament darling.
"I've gone from being just a normal-like tennis player to almost everyone in the United States knowing who I am now," she told reporters after her 6-2 6-2 defeat by Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark.
"It's definitely different but I enjoyed it."
The short, scrappy Oudin, who had the word "believe" stamped along the heels of her pink and yellow tennis shoes, made believers out of National Tennis Center throngs and television audiences with a string of come from behind upsets.
She eliminated four higher-ranked Russians in a row, a run that included coming back from a set down to beat Olympic champion Elena Dementieva, the fourth seed, former champion Maria Sharapova and 13th seed Nadia Petrova in succession.
Pumping her fist to psyche herself up, riding the wave of cheers from the crowds and unabashedly letting tears of joy flow, Oudin won a legion of fans and may have inspired other U.S. juniors.
"I've had a great run this tournament. For me, I'm a perfectionist, so losing today was a disappointment. I wanted to win. Losing isn't good enough for me.
"But the whole experience here that I've had is going to take me a long way, I think. I'm going to remember this for a long time. I've gained a lot of confidence through this tournament and I think I can only get better."
A year ago, Oudin was a first-round loser at the Open as a wildcard ranked 221 in the world. She ended the year at 177th.
After reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon, beating former number one Jelena Jankovic along the way, Oudin arrived at Flushing Meadows ranked 70th. She exits inside the top 45.
"Believing was my key thing going into these matches and knowing that I could compete with these women and beat them," she said.
"Now I realise that I got to the quarter-finals of the U.S. Open so I know that hopefully I can do it again and again."
Oudin said her peers have taken notice.
"I think it gives a lot of hope to the other Americans, especially the American junior girls because I've gotten a lot of support from them," she said. "I've heard they've all been cheering for me in the junior indoor courts over there.
"Just the fact that I'm the same age as a lot of them playing the juniors ... it's inspiring to them."
Oudin said she was not in danger of getting a big head.
"I'm basically a normal 17-year-old kid. I still go to movies and go to the mall. I like to shop. Just different things, like board games and cards with my grandma," she said.
Oudin singled out a couple of special Open memories.
"I never thought that I'd play Maria Sharapova on Arthur Ashe Stadium at the U.S. Open this year. Definitely did not see that coming.
"Just getting to play her and beating her. I've never met her before, so shaking her hand after the match was the first time I met her. It was crazy, the whole thing, though I loved it."
She said she also got a kick out of meeting men's all-time grand slam winner Roger Federer.
"It was really nice. He told me congratulations. I was going to tell him congratulations, too, and I totally forgot about that he just had, you know, twin girls and all that stuff. My mind just kind of froze getting to meet him."
Editing by Pritha Sarkar; To query or comment on this story firstname.lastname@example.org