American Oudin limps into U.S. Open spotlight

By Matthew Cronin

Last year, the then 17-year-old Oudin came from nowhere to upset ranked Russians Elena Dementieva, Maria Sharapova and Nadia Petrova, before falling to eventual runner-up Caroline Wozniacki in the quarter-finals.

But since reaching the quarter-finals at the Family Circle Cup in April, the scrappy Oudin has been locked in a slump and has failed to pass the second round in her last nine events.

Currently ranked number 44, Oudin failed in her quest to be seeded at the 2010 U.S. Open, even after earning a seed for the first time at a gland slam at Wimbledon where she fell in the second round to Australia's Jarmila Groth.

Oudin, the third highest ranked American behind Serena and Venus Williams, dismissed talk that she is in a slump and said critics have not given her enough time to build off the success from last year's U.S. Open, which has been credited partly to opponents who were still unfamiliar with her game.

"It's not a slump. Yes, the first year in the tour is the freshest, no one knows who you are and I really like playing under those circumstances," said Oudin. "I went from the total underdog to someone who is supposed to win every tournament. The expectations went from me from zero to 100."

The 5-feet, 6-inch (1.7 meter) Oudin is attempting to add more power to her largely counterpuncher style of game, but she continues to struggle with a reconstructed service motion and often plays too impatiently.

While hoping to rebound in the tournaments leading up to the August 30-September 12 U.S. Open, Oudin suffered early defeats in four events to Victoria Azarenka, Samantha Stosur, Elena Vesnina and Bethanie Mattek-Sands.

"Melanie is a really hard worker and I have confidence in her because every time she gets on court she's trying to get better," said U.S. Fed Cup captain Mary Fernandez said.

"She's trying to get a better serve and be more aggressive. The tough thing for her is wanting to do more than she's capable of and trying to play bigger than what she has."

With world number one Serena Williams out of the U.S. Open recovering from foot surgery and fourth-ranked Venus Williams not having played since Wimbledon due to a knee ailment, Oudin will have a hard time avoiding the spotlight.

"I thought would die down by now, but the fact the U.S. Open is coming again, it's 'Let's see if she can do it again, and I don't think it will be quiet at all for me,'" said Oudin

While she does not think that she is a world-beater yet, she admits that she has underachieved the past few months.

But Oudin added that if she can avoid thinking about what others expect her to do, another decent run in New York is not out of the question.

"I know that it wasn't a fluke and sure I can do it again, but I'm not going to put pressure on myself and think about it," she said. "Then I won't play like I can. I want to play with no fear and just go for it."

(Editing by Frank Pingue)