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Cinderella Minella: The Tale of a US Open Underdog

Aug 27th 2013

Born in Esch-sur-Alzette, the second-largest city in Luxembourg with a population of just over 29,000 , Mandy Minella took to the 10,200 -seat Louis Armstrong Stadium on Monday in front of what turned out to be nearly a capacity crowd. Not only was Minella facing off against No. 15 seed Sloane Stephens, the new shining star of American women's tennis, she was also up against a hostile crowd of spectators approximately half the size of her hometown.

No pressure, right?

Minella, despite being 27 years old, had much less experience at majors than an opponent nearly eight years her junior. In fact, the journeywoman never has won a match at a major outside of Flushing Meadows. Nonetheless, it is in one of the biggest and brightest cities in the world that a citizen of one of the world's smallest nations has captured some magic.

In 2010, in her main-draw debut at a major as a 24-year-old, Minella reached the third round after qualifying. She upset Polona Hercog and then-Wimbledon semifinalist Tsvetana Pironkova en route to a clash with Venus Williams. Although little went her way that night, Minella charmed the Arthur Ashe faithful with a bright smile and positive attitude. She even joined in on the wave with the capacity crowd during Williams' comfort break.

Two years later, in 2012, Minella received direct entry into last year's US Open, and slogged her way through a three-set match against Olivia Rogowska on an outer court in last year's opening round. The match featured extreme heat and humidity one minute and a nearly three-hour rain delay the next. When it resumed, Minella suffered from dry heaves and cramping at the back of the court, but she still managed to pull through. Her fairy godmother was back on her shoulder at Flushing Meadows, and she reached the third round once again after ousting Kristyna Pliskova in her next match. There, she fell not to Venus Williams but to unheralded Georgian Anna Tatishvili.

Mandy Minella

Entering play Monday, it remained to be seen if Minella's Flushing magic only manifests itself in even-numbered years. For nearly three hours, Minella toiled with Stephens on Armstrong, throwing everything that she had at her heavily favored opponent. The pair split sets with little to separate them on court, even if nearly 100 places separated them in the world rankings.

In a final-set tiebreak, Stephens won five points in a row to lead 6-3, but Minella proceeded to save two match points with a do-or-die forehand winner and later forced Stephens into an error after a long rally. Perhaps there was still some magic for Minella left. She threw down one of her biggest serves of the match, but Stephens' athleticism allowed her to put just enough on a backhand return, and Minella's lunging backhand volley clipped the tape and fell back on her side.

Most fairytales have a happy ending. For Minella, however, her 2013 US Open campaign ended before it could even begin. The clock struck twelve, and all was as it was before. Stephens advanced to the second round and Minella was left in tears, barely denied another magical run at her favorite major. 

All is not lost for Minella, however. She has time to polish her glass slippers and give another run a go next year…in the even-numbered 2014.