In 2009 during Wimbledon, a young, blonde American player was playing someone who earlier in the year was a former No. 1 ranked player in the world, Jelena Jankovic. On an outside court, watched by hundreds of fans, the young upstart beat Jankovic, who informed everyone who would listen that she was having her monthly cycle and that was the reason for her loss.
Later that summer during the US Open, little known Melanie Oudin, standing all of 5 ft nothing proceeded to take down some of the biggest names in tennis. The biggest name was Maria Sharapova who she beat in a highly contested 3 set match on Arthur Ashe stadium. She had the whole of America rooting her on to win the title and for a moment after she lost to Caroline Wozniacki, the announcers in the booth implied that she was the last American standing. The then No. 1 ranked player in the world and the defending champion, an American, Serena Williams was still in the tournament. This is not about Serena however, but about Oudin.
Prior to her amazing summer run, Oudin had been a standout in Fed Cup competition. She had fire running through her veins and while most of us who are ardent tennis watchers saw gaping holes in her game, the announcers were so happy to at least have someone blonde and blue eyed playing for the Stars and Stripes that it did not matter that Oudin did not have a serve worth anything and that her forehand and backhand were rudimentary to say the least.
It has been 2 long seasons since that amazing run by Oudin. She was ranked in the top 30 and the sky was the limit. Today in San Diego she got handled by Elena Baltacha 0 and 1. Of the 72 points played, Oudin won 28% of the points played. In the first set, of the 35 points played, she only won 29% of the points. In today’s match she served at 68% first serve but only won 46% of her first deliveries and only won 19% on her second serve.
In today’s game of power tennis you live and die by your serve. No matter how fierce a competitor you are, you have to be able to hold your serve as much as your nerve in order to compete and Oudin’s serve, no matter how high a percentage she is getting, is just not getting it done.
I am sure that her coach and the team around her at Wilson (she is no longer with Adidas) are striving to ensure that she gets a little bit more pop on her serve, as well as add some offense to her game. It can be done. We only need to look at Justine Henin, one of the smallest players who ever played this game and look at the results that she has had against players who were bigger and stronger than she was. Granted Henin had more talent than Oudin, but even closer to home, we look at Dominika Cibulkova. Cibulkova, 5 years ago was known more for her defensive play, rather than offense. These days, Cibulkova stands on top of the baseline and belts the ball as if she is 6 ft tall.
The last time I saw Oudin play was during Fed Cup last year. Once she serves, instead of standing on top of the baseline, she back pedals to the back of the court to start the rally. She does not do this because she is a defensive player, she does this because her serve is so weak that it gives her opponents time to start dictating from the first ball. Because Oudin is aware of this, she immediately goes on the defence.
What to do
You have to think that the members of the USTA have been trying to help with her development. The first thing she needs to work on is her fitness. She has started to carry a little bit of weight around her mid-section and for an elite athlete, this has got to go. In addition, she needs to work on her game. She needs to add more offense. She needs to learn how to dictate.
However, all the offense in the world cannot help Oudin if she no longer believes. It does not take a rocket scientist to realize that her previous clothing sponsor, Adidas has dropped her after her results started falling away. She is currently ranked outside the top 100 (111) and no doubt she will be granted copious amounts of wild cards during the USO Series in order for her to compete.
Looking at Oudin’s stats page on the WTA website, her results are littered with bagel sets. This usually shows that the belief which was a major part of her game 2 years ago has completely disappeared.
I am aware that Oudin has been playing Challenger events in order to rebuild her confidence, but that does not seem to have worked as she has lost in those events as well. With this loss in San Diego her ranking and confidence will continue to plummet. At this time my suggestion would be that a strong dose of reality should enter into the picture. The first would be to rid herself of her current coach. It is interesting that there are calls from the pulpit for Wozniacki to ditch her father as coach. Her father has taken her to the No. 1 ranking, a Grand Slam final and semi and while there is much room for improvement, or indeed for another voice in Ms. Wozniacki’s ear, it is interesting that there are no calls for Oudin to get herself a new coach. It could be that the relationship between Oudin’s mother and her coach is one that requires Oudin to not shake the tree too much, but you would think that her mother’s first instinct would be to try and have her daughter get the best possible help for her chose career.
I am no big fan of Oudin, but it is disheartening to see a player with so much fight become relegated to so much fodder for other players to just have their way. I am hopeful that her game will rise again.
I am not sure if it is possible, but perhaps Oudin could consider going back to college and hone her game or taking some time away from the pro tour and rebuild her game on the challenger or futures circuit. She has to do something because another loss similar to the one she suffered today may just put the end to an otherwise bright career.