Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Oudin tries to bounce back from health woes

Melanie Oudin lost to No. 1 seed An-Sophie Mestach 6-4, 6-4
in the first round of the Gold River Women's Challenger.
Photo by Paul Bauman

   GOLD RIVER, Calif. -- She was once America's sweetheart.
   Melanie Oudin, a 17-year-old pipsqueak with "Believe" printed on her shoes, knocked off four towering Russians in a row to reach the quarterfinals of the 2009 U.S. Open.
   U.S. fans went crazy.  
   Eventual runner-up Caroline Wozniacki ended Oudin's fairytale run in the quarters, but the 5-foot-6 (1.68-meter), 130-pound (59-kilogram) upstart climbed to No. 31 in the world the following April. Her future seemed unlimited.
   Then she put too much pressure on herself, and the losses mounted. Aside from winning the mixed doubles title in the 2011 U.S. Open with Jack Sock, there were few highlights.
   But the worst was yet to come as a bizarre series of health problems struck.
   Oudin was diagnosed in November 2012 with a debilitating muscle condition that caused her arms to swell "like balloons," she told the Associated Press at the time. However, she recovered in time to play a full season in 2013.  
   Last November, Oudin had a procedure for an accelerated heart rate and a growth removed her left eye that was caused by excessive exposure to the sun. (She now wears sunglasses while playing in an effort to prevent the growth from returning.)
   The heart procedure didn't work, so she had another one by a different doctor in April.
   "He did a great job, and I haven't had any problems since then," Oudin, a 23-year-old resident of Marietta, Ga., in the Atlanta area, said during last week's inaugural $50,000 Stockton Challenger. "I'm pretty sure I'm fixed and good to go."
Mestach led 5-1 in the second set against Oudin.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   Oudin advanced to the Stockton quarterfinals in the third tournament of her comeback but drew top-seeded An-Sophie Mestach of Belgium in the first round of this week's $50,000 FSP Gold River Women's Challenger in the Sacramento area.
   Mestach, the No. 1 junior in the world in 2011, won 6-4, 6-4 on Wednesday night at the Gold River Racquet Club in the first meeting between the undersized Fed Cup veterans.
   But it wasn't that close. The 5-foot-7 (1.70-meter) Mestach, ranked No. 104 after reaching the Stockton final, led 5-1 in the second set and served for the match at 5-2. She double-faulted twice, though, and lost her serve.
   After the right-handed Oudin held serve for 4-5, she took a dubious medical timeout for a right shoulder injury. While Oudin, lying on a towel on her stomach, received treatment near her chair, the 21-year-old Mestach tried to stay warm by practicing her serve.
   It worked. After a 10-minute break, Mestach held serve for the match.
   Oudin is mystified by the decline early in her career.
   "I honestly can't tell you," she said after beating eighth-seeded Naomi Broady of Great Britain in the second round of the Stockton Challenger. "The heart thing I've had since I was 19 or 20. I just didn't know what it was. I'm not making an excuse, but it definitely happened in a ton of matches, and I didn't really know what it was.
No. 4 seed Nao Hibino, who won last week's Stockton Chall-
enger, dominated Sanaz Marand. Photo by Mal Taam
   "A lot of people go up when they're young and go back down the rankings, and it just takes time to get back up again."
   Oudin's health problems have changed her perspective.
   "I've had some pretty crappy luck over the past two years, but I'm really happy," said the 270th-ranked Oudin. "I feel I'm almost playing a little better now (with) a little less pressure because I've gone through so much and realize there's way more to life than just tennis.
   "I feel like it's good not putting pressure on myself, because a lot of times I will put way too much on myself. Just starting back, no one expects me to win. I shouldn't expect right away to be winning tournaments, so every match (I win) is definitely a good thing."
   Broady can see how Oudin got to the U.S. Open quarterfinals.
   "She's a really good mover," said the 6-foot-2 (1.89-meter) Broady, who won the doubles title in the 2013 Gold River Challenger with Storm Sanders of Australia. "She's really quick. She hit a really good ball the first few games of the match. She was actually more aggressive than I was.
   "She's a little 'pocket rocket,' really. She's a great player, and I think her ranking will get back up there soon."
   It appears, though, that Oudin needs to lose weight.
No. 7 Kimiko Date-Krumm, 44, overcame a slow
start to beat Jessica Pegula. Photo by Mal Taam
   After the first round of the Gold River Challenger, all eight seeds remain -- a rarity in professional tennis. The biggest surprise Wednesday was Jan Abaza, 20, ousting fellow American Julia Boserup, last year's runner-up to Olivia Rogowska of Australia, 6-3, 6-3. Rogowska did not return this year.
   Half of the seeds are Japanese. Joining No. 2 Eri Hozumi, who won on Tuesday, in the second round were No. 4 Nao Hibino, No. 6 Mayo Hibi and No. 7 Kimiko Date-Krumm, a 44-year-old marvel.
   Hibino, the Stockton champion, dominated American left-hander Sanaz Marand 6-2, 6-3 after beating her 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4) in the Stockton semifinals.
   "The court is a little bit different from last week," said Hibino, 20. "It's faster, and the bounce is a little bit low. She hits a lot of spin, and I think it doesn't work (on this court)."
   Hibi, who won the Gold River Challenger two years ago at 17, dismissed American qualifier Nicole Frenkel 6-3, 6-3. Hibi was born in Japan but moved to Foster City in the San Francisco Bay Area at 2 1/2 and to Irvine, her current residence, a few years later.
   Date-Krumm topped Jessica Pegula, the runner-up to Maria Sanchez in the inaugural Gold River Challenger three years ago at 18, 1-6, 6-4 6-2. Pegula's billionaire father, Terry, owns the NFL's Buffalo Bills and the NHL's Buffalo Sabres.
   It took Date-Krumm one set to start moving her feet and get in a rhythm after reaching the Stockton semifinals, in which she lost to Mestach in three sets.
   "After Stockton, I took one day off and had two days of easy practice but still (didn't have) confidence  in my legs," said Date-Krumm, who ascended to No. 4 in the world 20 years ago but retired at age 26 for 12 years. "In practice, I was OK, but in the match, moving is different, so I was worried too much.
   "Also, in the beginning ... (my) moving (was) not good because she has big power, so we have no (rallies). If I start moving, I'm getting better, but in the beginning, I was still sleeping," Date-Krumm added with a laugh.
   Hibino will play Kristie Ahn, a 23-year-old former Stanford star. Date-Krumm will face Jamie Loeb, who won the NCAA title in May as a sophomore at the University of North Carolina.
   Watching Jovana Jaksic's first-round victory were fellow Serbians and former Sacramento Kings stars Vlade Divac and Peja Stojakovic.
   Qualifier Michaela Gordon, a resident of Saratoga in the Bay Area who will turn 16 on Sunday, lost to wild card Brooke Austin, an All-American as a freshman at the University of Florida this year, 6-2, 6-4. 
At Gold River Racquet Club in Gold River, Calif.
First-round singles
   Asia Muhammad, United States, def. Naomi Cavaday, Great Britain, 6-2, 6-2.
   Kimiko Date-Krumm (7) def. Jessica Pegula, United States, 1-6, 6-4, 6-2.
   Nao Hibino (4), Japan, def. Sanaz Marand, United States, 6-2, 6-3.
   Mayo Hibi (6), Japan, def. Nicole Frenkel, United States, 6-3, 6-3.
   Jan Abaza, United States, def. Julia Boserup, United States, 6-3, 6-3.
   Robin Anderson, United States, def. Lauren Embree, United States, 6-2, 6-4.
   Jovana Jaksic, Serbia, def. Manon Arcangioli, France, 6-2, 6-4.
   Kristie Ahn, United States, def. Chanel Simmonds, South Africa, 7-5, 6-2.
   Brooke Austin, United States, def. Michaela Gordon, Saratoga, 6-2, 6-4.
   Ashley Weinhold, United States, def. Mari Osaka, Japan, 6-4, 6-2.
   Jamie Loeb, United States, def. Kelly Chen, United States, 6-3, 6-4.
   Jennifer Brady (5), United States, def. Clothilde De Bernardi, France, 7-6 (7), 5-7, 6-4.
   An-Sophie Mestach (1), Belgium, def. Melanie Oudin, United States, 6-4, 6-4.   
First-round doubles
   Naomi Cavaday, Great Britain, and Alexandra Stevenson, United States, def. Samantha Crawford and Asia Muhammad, United States, 7-6 (5), 4-6 [12-10].
   Jovana Jaksic, Serbia, and Anhelina Kalinina, Ukraine, def. Usue Maitane Arconada and Kylie McKenzie, United States, 6-7 (5), 6-1 [10-8].
   Alexandra Facey and Kat Facey, Cameron Park, def. Jillian Taggart, Fair Oaks, and Karina Kristina Vyrlan, Sacramento, 7-5, 1-6 [10-6].
Thursday's schedule
(Starting at 10 a.m.)
   Kimiko Date-Krumm (7), Japan, vs. Jamie Loeb, United States.
   An-Sophie Mestach (1), Belgium, vs. Jan Abaza, United States.
   Anhelina Kalinina (8), Ukraine, vs. Jovana Jaksic, Serbia.
   Jan Abaza and Melanie Oudin (3), United States, vs. Ashley Weinhold and Caitlin Whoriskey, United States.
Court 3
(Starting at 10 a.m.)
   Mayo Hibi (6), Japan, vs. Ashley Weinhold, United States.
   Eri Hozumi (2), Japan, vs. Brooke Austin, United States.
   CiCi Bellis (3), Atherton, vs. Asia Muhammad, United States.
   Eri Hozumi, Japan, and An-Sophie Mestach (1), Belgium, vs. Manon Arcangioli and Clothilde De Bernardi, France.
Court 4 
(Starting at 11 a.m.)
   Nao Hibino (4), Japan, vs. Kristie Ahn, United States.
   Jennifer Brady (5), United States, vs. Robin Anderson, United States.

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