Melanie Oudin: Get Ready to ‘Believe’ Again

“Now it’s like. . . over. I guess I’m a little tiny bit relieved now. I can kind of start over, start over from all the expectations from like last year. And now I can just go out and hopefully do really well the rest of the year and keep working hard.”

Melanie Oudin, after losing to Alona Bondarenko in the second round of the U.S. Open, a year after making the quarterfinals

“Today is the best I’ve played in a long time. I felt confident out there.”

Oudin, a few months later after defeating 2010 French Open champ Francesca Schiavone in the finals of the Fed Cup.

Shedding the pressure of carrying a nation’s hopes—at least for a little while—can do wonders for a player, it seems. A solid win over a top 10 star at the end of the season should give the 19-year-old from Georgia, USA enough momentum to carry into next year, making her a Player to Watch for 2011.

After that run at the 2009 U.S. Open, where she defeated such big-name players as Maria Sharapova, Elena Dementieva and Nadia Petrova, Oudin became “America’s Sweetheart” over the course of a few days. However, that’s a lot of weight for any player to carry—particularly one who hadn’t even made it to the semifinals of a WTA Tour event at that point. So, with that in mind, 2010 was destined to be a year of adjustment for Oudin. And while she was making those adjustments, her fellow competitors were doing the same when it came to figuring out Oudin’s style of play. The same players she snuck up on the year before were more prepared this trip through the cycle.

Despite that, she did reach her first career tour semi final early on, but the year was filled with patchy results going into the U.S. Open, the site of her greatest professional result. While the loss there caused her ranking to plummet, Oudin gained more knowledge about life on the Tour. Her first tournament post-NYC was in Quebec, and there she managed to make the quarterfinals before falling to tour veteran Lucie Safarova in three hard-fought sets. And at the beginning of November, Oudin made the finals at an ITF event in Phoenix, Ariz., her best run all year.

Between those two came one of the biggest wins in her young career, the victory over Schiavone, at Fed Cup, where she’s always shined. Back-to-back finals for the U.S. in the team event with Oudin leading the way shows she has the “confidence” to succeed and that she will always “believe” in herself (to quote her customized Adidas shoes.)

And Oudin’s counterpunching style of play and foot speed always make her a threat against players that hit bigger than her, which helped her hit a career-high ranking of 31 in 2010. In 2011, look for her to move back to that level and possibly beyond. Also, expect her to be even more prepared to handle all that comes with being “America’s Sweetheart.”

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