NEW YORK - There are 18 million people here, 18 million different stories. But only two matter. Two people, Melanie Oudin and Derek Jeter. Two stories, how one does on a tennis court, how the other does in the batter's box.
Front page, back page. It's Jeter, the Yankees' captain, and Oudin, the U.S. Open's queen. He's chasing the immortal Lou Gehrig. She's trying to go farther into a Grand Slam tournament than anybody could have imagined.
"SWEEP & SOUR'' was the headline in the Post. The Yanks had taken two from Tampa Bay, but Jeter had taken the collar, gone hitless. And above that was " 'OU' GO GIRL! Magical Melanie reaches quarters."
A 17-year-old from Georgia. A 35-year-old from the Bronx Bombers. Tale after tale in the Big Town, and if you can make it here, we've been told, you can make it anywhere.
After 15 years and more than 2,700 hits, Jeter has made it. After 10 days and four straight wins over Russians, three of whom were heavily favored, Melanie has made it.
It's been steady progress for Jeter. That's the way career records work in baseball. Derek went hitless his first game in a Yankee uniform, in 1995, but after this Labor Day, even after going 0-for-8 in the doubleheader, he had 2,718 hits. That was four less than Gehrig's Yankee mark.
"It's not like I'm trying to do anything different," said Jeter. He's being watched, being scrutinized. There's not much else of interest in New York at the moment.
The Yanks are safely in front of the American League East. The Mets are dreadful. The football Giants and Jets don't begin until Sunday. Nothing else.
Except Melanie, the 5-foot-6 blend of hustle and heart.
"I just try to focus on what I do that day and not look back," said Jeter. His philosophy, if not his words, is exactly that of Melanie Oudin.
Even as pro for only two years, even ranked 70th in the world, she has figured out what all great athletes understand. You live in the moment.
For Jeter, that's the next pitch. For Oudin, that's the next ball over the net. His last at bat is irrelevant. Her last set is the same. He won't be thinking of 0-for-8. She said she wasn't thinking of losing the first set to Nadia Petrova, 6-1, on Monday. Melanie won the next two sets, 7-6, 6-3.
Jeter's been through this before, if not specifically in the quest for a record held by a man as famous and revered as Gehrig. Jeter has played in World Series, All-Star Games. He's dealt with the New York media more than a third of his life. The attention, the questions, they are part of the job, especially in a city with four dailies, three of them tabloids.
It's new for Oudin. In a way, it's frightening for Oudin. On Sunday, an off day, she went to Times Square for a photo shoot. The girl who used gawk at celebrities, who found idols in Justine Henin (who's an inch shorter) or Serena or Venus Williams (who are the best in America) was now herself a celebrity. Photos and fans pushed closer, resulting in a free-for-all.
"Melanie is not used to that,'' said John Oudin, her father. "She said to me, ‘This is going to take some getting used to.' She's not used to being recognized all over."
Jeter is. It comes with the territory. The Daily News gave Jeter five inside pages, including page two, and also the back cover on Tuesday. Then again, it gave Melanie two pages. "COMEBACK KID DOES IT AGAIN,'' was a headline spread across those pages.
Oudin made it to the quarter-finals. In the second round she lost the first set to No, 4 seed Elena Dementieva but won the match. In the third round she lost the first set to 2007 champion Maria Sharapova but won the match. In the third round she lost the first set to Petrova but won the match.
"I don't actually mean to lose the first set," said Oudin. Her innocence is part of the charm. "Maybe I'm a little nervous and all this stuff."
But when the pressure is on, there are no nerves, just nerve.
"She gets pretty much in her own zone," said John Oudin. "Nothing breaks her focus. I don't know where she gets it from."
Wherever, mental toughness is perhaps an athlete's most important asset. Hang in there, coaches, tell players. Don't quit. It's obvious Oudin never quits.
"It's just mentally, I'm staying in there with them the whole time and not giving up at all," Oudin said. "So they're going to have to beat me, because I'm not going anywhere."
Except to join Derek Jeter as one of the two brightest stars in New York City.