Oudin seeks comeback from slump

The darling of US tennis at 17 says her confidence is slowly returning after a three-year slump

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 August, 2012, 10:35am


Melanie Oudin looked down at the floor, clasped her hands together, and tried to explain how her game could spiral downwards so quickly.

How could a player whose well-publicised mantra "Believe" propelled her to the quarter-finals of the 2009 US Open as a wide-eyed, can't-believe-it's-happening-to-me 17-year-old suddenly lose her confidence? Slowly, painfully, the words came out.

"I've learned so much over the past few years," Oudin (pictured) said. "I've already been through the ups and the downs of tennis, the highs and the lows, doing extremely well and extremely badly.

"I've been through pretty much everything, which is crazy when I'm only 20. Hopefully, I've come out of the biggest slump that I'll have in my career. It just happened really early."

Oudin stunned the tennis world three years ago when she bounced four high-profile Russians from the US Open, including two-time grand slam finalist Elena Dementieva and world No2 Maria Sharapova.

With her bubbly demeanour and endless energy, Oudin was the talk of Flushing Meadows, with fans cramming into New York City's Arthur Ashe Stadium just to get a peek at America's newest darling.

The diminutive, blue-eyed blonde reached No31 in the world in early 2010 before the losses came in bunches, so many that her ranking plummeted to 370.

"I felt after I had that great run at the US Open the fans were wondering why I wasn't winning every week. I let that get to me. People would yell at me, 'C'mon, what are you doing?' I let it get into my head.

"Everyone wanted me to do well but they didn't understand it was hurting me at the same time. I put too much pressure on myself to do well. I was too tight."

Oudin and her long-time coach Brian de Villiers parted ways and she now works with the staff of former US Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe in New York.

Slowly, the confidence is starting to return. This year Oudin won a pre-Wimbledon grass-court tournament in Birmingham, England, defeating former No1 Jelena Jankovic in straight sets in the title match.

Oudin's ranking has crawled back to 106 but that was not good enough to grant her direct entry into the August 27-September 9 US Open. She was granted, however, a wildcard berth into the year's final grand slam tournament.

Despite her troubles over the last few years, Oudin never considered finding another line of work. She refused to believe the 2009 US Open was going to be the highlight of her singles career.

"I never thought about quitting," said Oudin, who won the US Open mixed-doubles title in 2011 with Jack Sock. "I've worked so long and so hard on tennis.

"But I have to stay positive. I know it wasn't a fluke. I know I can play well again."