Melanie Oudin poses with Boyd Tinsley after winning the Charlottesville singles title.
© Ray East
Melanie Oudin earned a wild card into the 2012 French Open.
By Erin Bruehl, USTA.com
It was by all accounts a difficult year professionally for Melanie Oudin in 2011.
She won just 10 singles matches all season against 33 losses, and by mid-year she had fallen out of the Top 100 in the world, just a little over a year after reaching her career high of No. 31 in April 2010 and less than two years after her magical run to the quarterfinals of the 2009 US Open.
Still just 20 years old and struggling with her confidence more-so than her actual strokes, Oudin decided she needed something different. She made the extremely difficult decision to split with the only coach she had ever had, Brian de Villiers, who had coached her since age 9, and began working with USTA Player Development in Boca Raton, Fla., last fall.
In February of this year, the Marietta, Ga., native made another move, leaving her Southern roots to train with USTA coaches Jay Gooding and Jorge Todero in New York at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the scene of her greatest professional success.
"After the year I had last year, I decided that probably it would be smart to make a change," Oudin said. "I really didn't know what I was going to do exactly. It was definitely a little bit scary because Brian is the only coach I've ever really known.
"Then starting with the USTA in Boca Raton, it was really nice," she added. "I think it was a good change for me. It was definitely a fresh start. I felt a lot better about everything. Then I ended up coming to New York and training here. I really feel like this is definitely the right place for me. I think I definitely found the place I should be training."
The changes did not bear immediate results, and Oudin’s ranking fell to No. 370 in the world in April. But she saw the improvement in her game and took a huge first step this spring during Charleston qualifying this spring, winning her first match since September 2011. A few weeks later she won the $50,000 USTA Pro Circuit in Charlottesville, Va., for her first singles title since 2009 and, based on her performance through three Pro Circuit events during the spring, earned the USTA wild card into the main draw of the 2012 French Open.
"I think after a losing streak, the first match that you win is definitely the toughest, getting through that," she said. "After I won that first match, I won pretty handily the next one. I think that was the toughest step for me.
"Since then, I've been much more confident," she added. "Every match I've won I've become a little bit more confident. In Charlottesville, I was really confident in all my matches and I think that's how I ended up winning the tournament there."
Determined to rejoin the ranks of the best players in the world, Oudin has been training on the court for four hours a day in addition to two-and-a-half hours of fitness. She also enjoyed her new coaching relationship with Gooding and Todero, who also work with fellow American Christina McHale, saying that they have gotten through to her and made her believe in herself once again, a particular focus for the player who made "Believe" her mantra during her 2009 US Open run, famously stamping the word on her shoes.
Together, player and coaches are focusing on the mental aspects of the game—working on making the right decisions, hitting the right shots at the right times and going after points—as opposed to tweaking her strokes.
Her turnaround is a far cry from 2011. While she did claim her first Grand Slam title—the US Open mixed doubles title with fellow American Jack Sock—in singles Oudin fell in the first round of each Grand Slam in 2011, and by the end of the year her ranking had dropped out of the Top 100. It was a big departure from reaching the fourth round of Wimbledon in 2009 and defeating the likes of Maria Sharapova, Nadia Petrova and Elena Dementieva at the US Open that made her an instant celebrity across the country.
But known for her infectious energy and bubbly personality as well as her fight, Oudin never got down on herself, never started hating tennis and never thought of leaving the game. Instead, she became more focused on working hard and finding solutions to return to the form that brought her success in her first go-round.
"I never really wanted to quit tennis or anything like that," she said. "I still love playing tennis, win or lose. I knew that at some point I was going to come out of my slump. It was just a matter of time. You just never know when it's going to click. Until recently finally it did."
Oudin earned her wild card to Roland Garros by earning the most rankings points from the USTA Pro Circuit clay-court tournaments in Dothan, Ala., Charlottesville and Indian Harbour Beach, Fla., of any other American women competing in those tournaments. She finds out who she plays in the opening round when the draw is released on Friday, knowing that a first-round victory would help propel her back up the WTA rankings from her current spot of No. 266.
"I'm definitely really excited, just really happy to have the opportunity [at Roland Garros] again," she said. "I mean, it's the main draw of a Slam.
"My goal right now is really to keep up what I've been doing," she added. "What I've been doing so far since coming [to New York] has been working for me. I'm improving a little bit every day, every week, every tournament. So hopefully just to keep that up and hopefully get my ranking up every tournament."