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TennisOne Lessons

Oudin Still Believes, But is a Question Mark

Matt Cronin

FROM THE BNP PARIBAS OPEN – Melanie Oudin continue to confound observers, those who believe that she has top 20 stuff, and those who think that her  inspirational run to 2009 US Open quarterfinals last summer was just a flash in the pan.

For a player who primarily relies on foot speed, fight, a sizeable forehand and consistent backhand, there is almost no explaining some of her victories, as well as some of her defeats.

After a depressing fall season and lousy Australian Open, the small yet muscular go-getter from Georgia picked up her level in February, only to fall flat on her face at Indian Wells in a 3-6 6-3 6-0  loss to Italian veteran Roberta Vinci. Oudin said the match simply got away from her, that she lacked execution, but potentially great players usually don't get bageled on their favorite surface at home, which puts Oudin's future in question. She's clearly  pressing again.

“Nothing was working, a bad day at the office,” she said.  “I was trying to hit the shots I normally hit and they weren't going in.  You always want to bring your best tennis to the big dances, but she just out played me.  I wasn't able to calm down and I was rushing. But my confidence is fine. This year is a learning year for me because I had such a big tournament at this US Open and just because I had that great tournament, that doesn't mean that I know everything now. I have a lot to improve and once I learn more about my game, everything is going to come together.”

The 18-year-old is trying lower expectations of herself and to get as many matches in as possible. She might be able to grind this year, but when the Williams sisters aren't in town, she's the most promising US female out there. At No. 41, she was the highest ranked American woman at Indian Wells so there is no way she can avoid attention when she's playing at home, especially with the small amount of promising young American women, and the fact the Williams sisters won't be around forever.

“I was pretty much done after the US Open,” Oudin said. “There was so much stuff going on, way more media than I ever experienced and physically after so many matches and mentally having to come back in those matches, it wasn't easy and I was exhausted. I used everything I had at the Open and had nothing left. I put way too much pressure on myself and I needed  a break.”

Oudin took down a group of standout Russians to reach the US Open quarters including Elena Dementieva, Maria Sharapova, and Nadia Petrova, but she fell apart after that.

For the most part, Oudin has coped well with the pressure, but she's also taken some hard knocks. After a terrific summer her that saw her upset Jelena Jankovic and reach the fourth round of Wimbledon and then take down a group of standout Russians to reach the US Open quarters including Elena Dementieva, Maria Sharapova and Nadia Petrova, she fell apart. After the US Open, she flew to Asia and then Europe where she only won one match – in qualifying – and then came home and played six exhibitions.  That turned out to be big mistake.

Oudin didn't start 2010 in great fashion either, falling in the first round of Auckland and then going down 7-5 in the third set to Alla Kudryavtseva in the first round of the Australian Open, despite holding match points. Then, she tearfully said that people's expectations of her were way too high, but added that she'd “keep believing.”

Before heading to Fed Cup in France, she went to Florida to work out with some of  her male player friends. She told herself not to continue to stress about what the scoreboard was saying,  traveled across the Atlantic and keyed the U.S.' win over France by besting both Pauline Parmentier and Julie Coin on clay.

At 5-foot-6 and 130 pounds Oudin doesn't exactly fit the mold but neither did Martina Hingis or Justine Henin and they have 12 slams between them.

She immediately headed over to Paris to compete on an indoor hard court and despite a bad cold, played extremely well at the Paris Indoors. She took out former top-10 player Patty Schnyder 6-1, 6-3, overcame the talented Agnes Szavay 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 and then in the semis, gave Dementieva fits in a 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 loss. It was the first time she had reached the semifinals of WTA premier event.

“I learned how to cope with losses and just moved on,” she said. “I was confident again and wasn't stressed about doing really well and I just went out, played and had fun. I played my best and remembered that getting better is the key thing and didn't worry about winning every singles match.”

At 5-foot-6 and 130 pounds, Oudin may not have the perfect body type to wrack up multiple Grand Slam titles, but Justine Henin, who isn't much bigger than she is, has won seven of them. Longtime No. 1 Martina Hingis wasn't exactly a giant either, but she won five Slams. On many days, Oudin is a ferocious competitor and that goes a long way.

“She has such a great attitude,” said Tennis Channel's Corina Morariu said. “She has so much room for room for improvement, but her biggest weapon is her mentality and she likes to play under pressure. In women's tennis today, there aren't that many players who feel that way.”

Oudin's forehand is her big weapon.

Some analysts think Oudin  has top-10 stuff, while others don't think she can hit the ball hard enough to ever be a consistent major threat. She has great balance, speed, and is trying to attack the net more to add to her ground game, but she's an unrefined product who doesn't have benefit of owning a huge first serve or blazing return that took Serena and Maria Sharapova to Slam titles as teenagers.

“Her forehand is her weapon and she is still developing it,” Morariu said.  “She needs to work on her serve, but in Paris she was hitting her backhand better than I've ever seen it because she has tendency to be to passive with it when she over slices and she gets defensive. That gets her into trouble.”

Oudin's goal is to reach the top 32 by the French Open so she can be seeded, and the top 20 by the time of the US Open, but Morariu thinks she might be getting ahead of her self.

“I think that's ambitious,” she said.  “If she plays the way she did in Paris than she is playing like a top 20 player, but week in and week out that will be a challenge. There's going to be a balance for her because she's going to have to work pretty hard to win points. But attitude, fight, and determination will take you a long way and there are a lot of other players who are mentally fragile. She's not.”

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