Tuesday, August 17, 2010
The unfortunate consequences of Melanie Mania
Oudin has had good runs this year in Paris (semifinals), Memphis (quarterfinals), Ponte Vedra Beach (quarterfinals), and Charleston (quarterfinals); everywhere else, she has fallen in the first or second round. At Wimbledon, where Oudin made it to the round of 16 last year, she was defeated in the second round by the ever-threatening Jarmila Groth. Her season has been inconsistent so far, and fans tend to remember the failures, rather than the successes.
As the U.S. Open approaches, I can't help but consider what a task it must be for Oudin to just go about her business. Her run last year was one of the most exciting events in women's tennis during 2009. She became a media darling, which is just about always a bad thing, especially in the U.S. We like to turn people into overnight icons, and then tear them down with the same enthusiasm with which we created them.
Melanie Oudin does not exist to "save" U.S. tennis. She is a spirited young player with a great forehand and great footwork, and she has all kinds of problems with her serve. My best guess is that--at this point--she has significant problems with her confidence, too. While her image is being flashed all over television (she's the "upstart" in the U.S. Open Series promos), she's losing matches. Just this week, she acknowledged that she has probably done too much media lately.
Does she need a better handler? Maybe. She's a poised young woman, but the operative word is "young," and maybe she could use a bit more guidance than she currently gets. She certainly could use some help with that serve.
But my objective here is not to tear down Oudin; rather, it is to suggest that we should leave her alone. The 2009 Wimbledon and U.S. Open runs were remarkable--so much so, that Oudin cannot live up to them. I still think that she has a good deal of potential, but--for whatever reason--she has not met it this year. I have seen her play twice this year--in Charleston and in the Fed Cup semifinals--and there is just something about her that pulls me in. As readers of this blog will know, I'm definitely not looking for someone to save U.S. tennis: I just enjoy Oudin's on-court persona, and I appreciate the things that she does well.
I have no idea whether Melanie Oudin will find a way to serve better and more consistently, and to use her other skills to move up in the rankings (she is 44 now, but a drop after the U.S. Open is expected). I certainly hope she does; I don't want to see that forehand go by the wayside. But she could also fade away; only time will tell. She'll be 19 in September, and for women's tennis these days, that's young.
In the meantime, no one can take away her 2009 Russian-smacking mission at the U.S. Open. Maybe it was too much, too soon. Maybe it was just one of those things. Some fans still want to believe...as corny as that may sound. But in the end, Oudin is simply an 18-year-old who--like any 18-year-old--doesn't need to be bludgeoned by vicious criticism before she even has a chance to call herself an adult.