By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - American teenager Melanie Oudin, the home crowd darling of last year's U.S. Open, set aside her season's struggles to launch this year's edition of the tournament with a straight sets win on center court.
Oudin, who blazed into the quarter-finals last year riding the support of the thunderous Flushing Meadows crowds, took a positive first step on Monday by beating Ukrainian qualifier Olga Savchuk 6-3 6-0 on the Arthur Ashe Stadium court.
The 18-year-old Oudin, at number 43 in the world and third highest ranked American woman behind Serena and Venus Williams, has found it difficult to build on the rousing success she enjoyed last year at the National Tennis Center.
A first-round loser at both the Australian and French Opens who failed to advance past the second round at Wimbledon, the feisty baseliner found her bearings after being level at 3-3 in the first set and won the last nine games of the match.
"After I won the first set everything just felt good again," Oudin, who dropped just two points in the second set, said in an oncourt interview after her 56-minute win. "The nerves went away. I'm so happy to be on Ashe again."
Oudin said she was surprised and honored to have been chosen to play the opening match of the year's final grand slam.
"It means a lot. I can't believe they actually put me first to start the U.S. Open," she said. That's a real honor for me."
Despite her disappointing results in this year's grand slams, Oudin rose to the occasion this year to help the United States reach the upcoming Fed Cup finals against Italy.
"I'm just taking it match by match this year," said Oudin, dreaming of recapturing the magic of a year ago. "Hopefully, maybe I can do it again."
(Reporting by Larry Fine, Editing by Frank Pingue)