Tuesday, September 08, 2009

For Melanie Oudin, Mental Toughness Pays Off at the U.S. Open

“I try to pretend that it's not like Arthur Ashe Stadium playing Maria Sharapova. I try to just pretend it's any other match, even just practicing. Sometimes I tell myself I'm just practicing at my academy at home and I'm just playing one of my friends.”

--Melanie Oudin, discussing her approach to her matches.

The 17-year-old from Marietta, Georgia staged another upset Monday afternoon at the U.S. Open, extending her surprising run to the quarterfinals with another come-from-behind victory, 1-6, 7-6 (2), 6-3 over 13th-seeded Nadia Petrova. Oudin once again upset a more-seasoned, higher-ranked opponent.

Oudin, the 70th-ranked player already had wins over No. 4 Elena Dementieva and No. 29 Maria Sharapova, a former No. 1 and U.S. Open champion, along with one over former No. 1 Jelena Jankovic this summer at Wimbledon. Now, she's knocked off the No. 13 seed at the U. S Open.

Melanie Oudin defeated Sharapova 3-6, 6-4, 7-5.

“I learned, once again, proved to myself that I can compete with these top girls,” said the American, who once again rallied from a set down to beat her heavily-favored opposition. “And if I believe in myself and my game, then I can beat them.”

Previously, on Thursday afternoon, Oudin knocked out another top Russian, Elena Dementieva, in three-sets, 5-7, 6-4, 6-3. Dementieva was ranked No. 2 earlier this year. Oudin’s ranking will now rise to the low 50s from 70.

After beating Dementieva, Oudin said, “I didn't think that she was blowing me off the court. She wasn't hitting winners left and right on me. We had long points. I was right there with her. I knew if I could play well and keep being aggressive and stay in there that I could do it.”

Oudin has displayed a great deal of mental toughness, and an ability to reach back and gather energy late in the third set.

Hard Work, Passion and Focus

“Someone asked me at Wimbledon, how I would describe the whole experience,” said Oudin. “There's not really one word. Everything about it is just unbelievable. But basically I love to play tennis, and that's why I'm here. I'm loving it.”

“I guess it’s kind of surprising, but it’s like I’ve worked so hard for this,” said Oudin. “Finally, everything is just coming together. I’m playing how I’ve been wanting to play, how I knew I could play. I just haven’t been able to do it continually for an entire match. These past matches here, I’ve been able to keep it up the entire time, not just a couple points here or there, a set here and there, but like the entire match.”

Confidence and Composure

“She’s just playing with such confidence now, and she thrives on playing in front of people,” said Brian de Villiers, Oudin’s coach since she was 9. “Before we went out, she was like: ‘I cannot let Sharapova intimidate me. I have to just hold my ground.’ ”

Oudin has now beaten two women who were once ranked No. 1 (Jelena Jankovic at Wimbledon and now Sharapova).

“I think she has a great amount of potential,” said Sharapova, who, like Dementieva, was gracious in defeat. “I thought she played really well. I thought she has many weapons. You know, she certainly held her ground.”

After looking average, anxious, and out of her league in the first set against Sharapova, Oudin regained her composure in the second set, jumping out to a 5-1 lead before Sharapova recovered. Sharapova fought through the next three games before Oudin won the set on her seventh set point.

Competitive Spirit

“I’ve always been so competitive, doesn’t matter what I’m doing,” Oudin said, adding: “I always want to win more than anything. I’m not going to give up, you know, no matter what the score is.”

She has become the youngest American to move into the quarterfinals at America's Grand Slam since Serena Williams in 1999.

All four of Oudin's wins have come against Russians and her next match could be against yet another. That's sixth-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova, the 2004 Open champion and the only Grand Slam tournament winner left on Oudin's side of the bracket.

Tenacity and Determination

"It's kind of hard to explain how I've done it," Oudin said. "Today, there were no tears because I believed I can do it. Now I know I do belong here. This is what I want to do. I can compete with these girls no matter who I'm playing. I have a chance against anyone."

Oudin improved to 6-1 at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open this year when she's lost the first set. She is 17-4 overall this year in three-set matches. In all the matches, she has shown tenacity and determination.

"I don't actually mean to lose the first set," she insisted. "Sometimes, I just start off slowly. Maybe I'm a little nervous. Today, my timing was off a little. But I just totally forgot about it, started off the second set like it was a new match, and I started playing better."

With a serve that needs work (she won the match with Petrova without serving a single ace) Oudin is winning with high energy, footwork, technique, precision. Mostly, though, she is thriving in pressure situations that has destroyed so many others in her situation.

"You don't know if she's winning or losing," said her father, John. "She doesn't seem nervous out there -- and I don't know where that came from."

“It’s kind of hard to explain how I’ve done it,” Oudin said. “Like today, there are no tears because I believed that I could do it. And it’s like now I know that I do belong here. This is what I want to do, and I can compete with these girls no matter who I’m playing. I have a chance against anyone.”

Against Petrova, Oudin started slowly with Petrova serving well and Oudin unable to control her service games. A mere mortal would have had a difficult time bouncing back from a 1-6 beating. Petrova had been playing very well, beating her first three opponents without dropping a set.

“I think it’s just mentally I’m staying in there with them the whole time, and I’m not giving up at all,” Oudin said. “If they’re going to beat me, they’re going to beat me, because I’m not going to go anywhere.”

In The Zone

“She gets pretty much in her own zone,” John Oudin said. “Nothing breaks her focus. I don’t know where she gets it from.”

Oudin, though, kept her composure and got going in the second set and got the crowd into it with her.

“She has nothing to lose,” Petrova said of Oudin. “She has the crowd going for her. She’s just having a blast out there.”

I know that I can compete with the best in the world now,” Oudin said. “And I will know that forever.”
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