the strings and streaks of melanie oudin

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While Melanie Oudin was busy making believers out of all of us, the one she really has to worry about is herself. (Photo via Getty Images)

It hasn’t been an easy year for Melanie Oudin. Since she rocketed to stardom at last year’s U.S. Open, the American teenager has struggled to marry her new-found life in the public eye with hard work off the tennis court. The result has been a topsy turvy tennis season that has left most of us wondering: What will happen to Melanie Oudin?

What most of us (including myself) have forgotten, is that before there was her run at Flushing Meadows or her stunning breakthrough at Wimbledon, she has spring success in North America last season with inspiring tennis at Charleston, Indian Harbour Beach (ITF) and Raleigh (ITF). It was a span of four weeks of tennis that saw Oudin lose just one out of 15 matches, sending her ranking from 177 in the world to number 125.

What we’ve learned about Oudin in the nine months that we’ve known her well (since she won six matches at Wimbledon last summer), is that she’s a streaky player. After her spring winning streak last year, she lost badly at the French Open the first round of qualifying, winning just one game in a match against Zuzana Ondraskova, ranked 192nd.

In an exhibition few talked about, Oudin beat Serena Williams in December. (Getty Images photo)

After a successful summer, where she was 6-1 at Wimbledon, 8-3 in the U.S. hardcourt swing before her run in New York City, she closed out the year winning just one of five matches, and opened 2010 losing her first two before winning a string of three matches in Paris following a successful Fed Cup week for the Americans in France.

It’s clear that what Oudin feeds off of is similar to the rest of the WTA Tour: confidence. Get the gal two or three match wins under her belt and she starts feeling the ball better, moving easier and playing defense like an animal. But get her down, and she has a tough time digging her way out. While she was 17-5 in 2009 in three set matches, she has won just one in five of such matches this year. Fatigued? Perhaps.

When I spoke to Virginia Wade earlier this month for a New York Times article, she said over-playing might be one of the biggest issues on the WTA Tour, especially when a player like Oudin starts winning: all of the sudden she’s playing four to five matches a week instead of one or two. The potential aftermath of a successful 2009 for Oudin? A potentially underwhelming 2010.

On Friday at the Sony Ericcson Open, Oudin didn’t quite reach three sets, perhaps because she was fatigued, or perhaps she was just off. No matter the reason, her second round match against Russian #11 seed Vera Zvonareva, was her worst loss (6-1, 6-2) since that embarrassing 0 and 1 outing against Ondraskova at last year’s French Qualifying, almost a year ago.

From here on out is that time that the pressure will start to mount on Oudin’s shoulders. Of her current 1,487 WTA ranking points, she will defend 1,176 of them between the middle of April and September. A bad streak could send her tumbling to as low as 180th in the world, almost exactly where she stood at a year ago.

It is her belief – and her confidence – that will tell whether Oudin can carry on such success. And this time, the whole (tennis) world is watching her do it.

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