“So give me something to believe, ‘cause I am living just to breathe. And I need something more, to keep on breathing for.” – The Bravery, “Believe”
Let’s rewind for a moment to 2009. Melanie Oudin had just defeated Jelena Jankovic in the third round of Wimbledon. Following her shock upset, Oudin stated:
“I think I handled it really well…I was just thinking that she was any other player and this was any other match at any other tournament, not like on the biggest stage at Wimbledon playing my first top 10 player…I’m very excited right now. But I’m hoping there will be better days too.”
Little did she know, “better days” were coming right around the corner. Perhaps sooner than Oudin was ready for. At the 2009 US Open, Oudin became the youngest woman to reach the quarterfinals there since Serena Williams in 1999; she defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Elena Dementieva, Maria Sharapova and Nadia Petrova before falling to Caroline Wozniacki. The American media latched onto Oudin; to them, she had it all. Seemingly overnight, she became the next face of American women’s tennis.
To say the three years since her giant-killing run have been tough for Oudin is putting it mildly. Very mildly. Personal and family conflicts, high expectations and loss of form and confidence caused Oudin to free fall. Prior to the start of the 2012 Family Circle Cup, her record since 2009 stood at 35-62 and she had fallen outside the top 300 in the world rankings. Oudin did not win back-to-back matches in 2011, finishing the season with a 10-33 record. (She was the beneficiary of two walkovers in tournaments where she won her first match.) The lone bright spot for Oudin came unexpectedly at the 2011 US Open, where she and fellow American teenager Jack Sock took home the mixed doubles title (d. Dulko/Schwank).
Oudin, whose motto during her 2009 run was simply “Believe”, has been criticized, and even mocked, by tennis fans. By early 2012, Oudin finally had enough; despite having earlier placed blame only on herself, she split from her longtime coach, Brian de Villiers, desperate for a new voice and a fresh approach.
Coming into Charleston with an 0-5 record on the season, few, if any in the tennis community expected Oudin to do any damage in the tournament. She was barely competitive at the higher ITF levels, let alone in WTA draws. To add to this, she had drawn the in-form 11th seed, Great Britain’s Heather Watson in the first round of the qualifying tournament; Watson had just come off a third round showing in Miami (l. to Azarenka).
She toughed out the win against Watson, 64 16 64. Oudin had defeated a player close to her in age, but seemingly worlds apart in career standing. Watson is on the rise, Oudin was going backwards. A routine win against Slovenia’s Petra Rampre followed, and Oudin was in the main draw of a WTA tour event for the first time since September 2011. For the first time in quite a long time, Melanie Oudin exceeded expectations.
Her placement in the draw was now up to fate, and Oudin drew the short end of the stick. She was drawn to play clay court specialist, 10th seeded Anabel Medina Garrigues of Spain. Oudin gave the Spaniard all she could handle, but the latter’s match toughness and fitness prevailed in the end, 64 46 60.
Despite the loss, Oudin remained upbeat:
@SI_BTBaseline: Talked to a very happy Melanie Oudin. Finally feels like she’s starting over. New coaches, now training in NY. Playing 3 50ks next.
At the end of the day, the match against Medina Garrigues in Charleston will go down as another first round loss for Oudin. Will this be the start of a revival? That remains to be seen. Just maybe, however, she’s given her fans reason to hope. She’s given herself a reason to believe.