Sunday, September 6, 2009

Oudin's Mental Toughness is Her Biggest Weapon

Melanie Oudin, at least for the moment, has what most of the WTA lacks. The 5'6" 130-pounder from Marietta, Georgia has become an engine of belief while a large contingent of the WTA's top players is shrouded in self-doubt.

Oudin's upset win over Maria Sharapova yesterday has catapulted the 17-year-old into the 4th round of the U.S. Open, and with the huge tailwind of emotional support that is following her everywhere she goes, she's a good bet to advance further.

Unfortunately for Oudin, there is no longer such a thing as a good bet in women's tennis. The carnage has been well documented on the woman's side, with Dinara Safina being the latest top seed to tumble last night against a hardly lethal Petra Kvitova (ranked No. 72 coming in). Safina is just one of many women who came in with high expectations and who are now waiting to catch the 7 train out of Queens.

Given the circumstances, Oudins trip to her second consecutive round-of-16 appearance at a slam should not be all that surprising. She's got something that many of the other higher ranked girls currently lack: Mental toughness and fighting spirit.

And she knows it.

When asked at her post match presser about what her best weapons were, her answers gave us insight into the precocious mind of Oudin.

Question: What do you think about the weapons you have in your game?

Oudin: "I think the biggest weapon can be mental toughness. It doesn't have to be a stroke or a shot or anything like that. If you're mentally tough out there, than you can beat anyone. I think that's what I really did well today and what I've done in my past matches. I'm so focused and I fight super hard. So it's not going to be easy to beat me."

It's impressive that the kid could speak about herself in that way, and it bodes well for her that she has constructed her personal mission statement accordingly. The first 6 days of the U.S. Open has made it painfully obvious that the current woman's field is too fragile emotionally to consistently achieve results that match expectations. Many of the women seem overwhelmed by the pressure. Oudin, on the other hand, has chosen to embrace it.

Of course it'll be a different story if she makes it into the top-10 and the pressure dynamic becomes more likely to affect her negatively. But for now, the No. 70-ranked Oudin can enjoy the moment and be buoyed be the fact that she has nothing to lose.

It is the age of the underdog in the WTA. And Melanie Oudin possesses the perfect weapon to win in this unconventional form of tennis warfare.

As long as she continues embracing the pressure while others are wilting beneath it, the sky is the limit for her.

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