Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Melanie Oudin has a laugh while hitting with Georgia Tech's Irina Falconi at the Infinite Energy Atlanta Challenge media day.
The summer of 2009 was a crazy -- and successful -- one for Melanie Oudin. In her first full season as a professional, the Marietta native burst upon the scene in the Women's Tennis Association, advancing to the fourth round of one grand slam tournament (Wimbledon) and to the quarterfinals of another (the U.S. Open) and rising to No. 49 in the most recent world rankings. It's also been quite a busy summer for the 18-year-old, who has traveled constantly to tournaments throughout the world for the better part of the last six months. She's finally getting a chance to catch her breath, and will be playing only exhibitions for the next couple of months, including the Infinite Energy Atlanta Challenge on Dec. 4 at the Racquet Club of the South in Norcross. It's an event that will also feature professional players like Mardy Fish, the doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan and top amateur Irina Falconi of Georgia Tech. Daily Post staff writer David Friedlander caught up with Oudin during a recent media gathering at the Racquet Club of the South, where she has trained for the past two years, to talk about this past summer and her future.
DF: If your performance at Wimbledon didn't make you more of a household name, your performance at the U.S. Open that included upsets of Elena Dementieva, Nadia Petrova and Maria Sharapova did. How different did that make things for you off the court?
MO: It was hard because kind of becoming an overnight sensation when I didn't expect it at all was pretty crazy. Being at the U.S. Open all day, you kind of want to go back to your hotel and just chill, and like, do nothing and just relax. I couldn't really do that because when I got back to my hotel, people would be there in the lobby if I was in the lobby for like more than five minutes. ... It was pretty interesting. Going to restaurants wasn't too bad because we tried to go to, like, quieter places, but that doesn't really happen because we're in New York City. ... It wasn't bad, but it was definitely different.
DF: Has the new-found fame affected how you approach the game on the court?
MO: A little bit. It's hard with the pressures that come with it because everyone's looking at me because I had a good U.S. Open run that I'll be the next great American (player). I had a good year, but ... now people expect me to, like, win everything. I'm not going to win everything. I mean, there's going to be some ups and downs. It's not going to be, like, proving (anything) because I had one great U.S. Open. I'm going to have to be working hard, and it's not going to come easy.
DF: How has that changed your practice schedule or your focus at practice? Or has it stayed the same?
MO: The practices and stuff are still the same. My fitness and all that -- I'm probably going to be pushed even harder because I have a pretty good offseason, and I want to be 150 percent when I start in Australia (at the Australian Open in January).
DF: So, now that a busy season has wound down, the only events you'll be playing in for the time being are exhibitions like the one coming up here Dec. 4. Are you looking forward to the break?
MO: I'm really excited about playing exhibitions because I don't get to do that very often, and a lot of my friends from home don't get to see me play that often. So, it will be nice to have everyone -- all my family, my grandparents, my cousins -- come and see me play here and in Chattanooga and a lot of places close by. It'll be great. I'm really excited about it.
DF: You've got to be looking forward to a little down time to get a chance to catch your breath, no?
MO: Yeah, I'm looking to just calm down a little bit and relax a little bit and to be able to be a normal kid and do normal things. All season, I'm home for about, like, a month and a half. So, it's going to be really nice just relaxing and being able to sleep in my own bed for a while and visit with my old friends and family.
DF: The Infinite Atlanta Challenge will be a true homecoming for you, since you've been training out at The Racquet Club of the South for the better part of the last two years. What was it that brought you out here to begin with?
MO: I (started) at (the) Riverside ... Club (in Sandy Springs), which was a lot closer to my house. I moved with (her coach, Brian de Villiers) because the whole (USTA training) academy moved.
DF: Are the facilities here bigger than what they had over at Riverside Country Club?
MO: Yes. Riverside had only six courts. It was nice, though, because it was almost like we were a family because everyone knew everyone really well. Here, it's a lot bigger. I don't know a lot of the kids here now. But (the move was) what we needed because we expanded a lot. There's an amazing gym here, indoor courts. It's a lot more hospitable for, like, my training now.
DF: It had to be a tough commute coming from Marietta at first.
MO: It was hard because with traffic, it takes me about 45 minutes to get here. But it's definitely worth it. It's not that bad.
DF: The club has certainly changed since you first played over her as a little kid, hasn't it?
MO: I played tournaments here before I actually started training here. It was really run down. This room was never here. The whole facility has gotten better. The courts have gotten better. The restaurant, the gym, everything has gotten better. ... It's a great facility now.
DF: How much do you think you've raised the profile of the club?
MO: I think since the U.S. Open, people want to know where I train at and a lot of parents have wanted their younger girls to come here and see if they can get the same kind of coaching that I've had.
DF: Do you see yourself continuing to train out here for the foreseeable future?
MO: Yeah. I mean, I'm happy with everything. I want Brian to be my coach and I like the kids here. This is like my home. I'm not planning on going anywhere else.
DF: Looking ahead now, when we talked the last time (a few weeks before the U.S. Open), you were ranked No. 70 in the world, and I remember you had a goal to be in the top 50 by the end of the summer, which you've done. So, what are your goals for next season?
MO: Next year, by the French Open, I want to try to get a seeding. So, top 32. Then, by the U.S. Open, I want to be top 20.