petrova

WILL BALANCED APPROACH TO LIFE WORK FOR OUDIN?

By Melina Harris

As I sat on the British table at the Professional Tennis Registry’s award ceremony last night at the Crowne Plaza, Hilton Head Island, we were informed that Brian de Villiers, coach of America’s new sweetheart, 18-year-old Melanie Oudin could not accept his award for PTR Touring Coach of the Year due to his commitments in supporting his young protégé in France during her impressive run at the Open GDF Suez tournament in Paris, which came to an end after a gutsy semifinal performance on Saturday against top seeded Elena Dementieva 4-6, 6-3, 6-3.

De Villiers was given the award by the PTR based on Oudin’s meteoric rise into America’s consciousness as their No. 3 female player on the tour behind Serena and Venus Williams following her impressive run to the quarterfinals at last year’s US Open, when she dispatched of Dementieva, Petrova and Sharapova no less. Her two victories in the recent Fed Cup to give the United States a 4-1 win over France has not gone unnoticed by the American public desperate for someone to take over from the impressive Williams sisters. However the level-headed star recently commented, “I know people are hoping I’m the next up-and-coming American but I don’t read any of that, the blogs, the press, what anyone says. I just focus on myself and I already have my own goals. That’s what I’m concentrating on.”

After the recent ‘burn outs’ of Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova in their early twenties with career threatening injuries, I began to wonder whether steps had been taken by De Villiers to ensure Oudin’s longevity in the game?

Unlike Sharapova, whose years of intensive training on the hard courts of the Nick Bollettieri Academy in Florida have caused the star to remodel her serve in order to recover from a recurrent shoulder injury and Nadal’s pounding on the Spanish clay as a junior causing widespread concern over his tendonitis, De Villiers has been careful not to overdo the training and instead has chosen to allow Oudin to also focus her attentions on academic pursuits. De Villiers is well known for encouraging his young players to keep a balanced perspective on and off court. It has been documented that Oudin intends on studying for a medical degree in the future. Could this more balanced view be the key to her future success?

Indeed, the recent rise of American collegiate graduate John Isner to No. 25 in the ATP world rankings has emphasized the idea that devoting too much time to tennis at a young age without consideration of a player’s personal and mental development outside of the game can be detrimental, while a more balanced approach to education can be more conducive to a lengthy and successful career.

The Williams sisters were notoriously held back from playing junior events by their father which could have been the predominating factor in their continued enthusiasm for the game, as well as their other pursuits such as Serena’s charity work and their fashion lines.

I think there has been a definite switch in opinion regarding the age at which players are expected to achieve success, confirmed by the notable come backs of Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters in their mid twenties following breaks from the game, when both players were allowed the time to shift their focus on personal development which has possibly given them an edge over their weary contemporaries such as Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic whose years of focus and discipline have lead to mental and physical fatigue. Most players should be reaching their peak around the mid to late twenties mark, like the great Roger Federer, who many forget took 17 attempts at a Grand Slam title before winning one. However, in the past players have been written off as failures if they haven’t succeeded in their teens or early twenties, which with hindsight was ridiculous.

I really hope that young players such as Laura Robson and Melanie Oudin are given the time and space to develop at a more natural pace, with the inclusion of academic and social pursuits to ensure their love for the game, which can be lost like Andre Agassi admitted in his recent autobiography who went so far as to say he ‘hated’ the sport, but only began to truly love it aged 27 during his comeback which included several Grand Slam victories.

As Oudin plays in the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships in Memphis this week, it will be interesting to see whether the level-headed youngster, whose slogan “believe” is emblazoned on her trainers, and her coach’s balanced approach will create a fairy tale ending for her adoring American fans and become a future Grand Slam tournament champion.

Melina Harris is a freelance sports writer, book editor, English tutor and PTR qualified tennis coach from London. For more information and contact details please visit and subscribe to her website and blog at http://www.thetenniswriter.wordpress.com and follow her twitter updates via http://www.twitter.com/thetenniswriter.   She is available for freelance writing, editing and one to one private teaching and coaching.

Safina Survives Opening Round Scare In Cincinnati

Two points from defeat in the second set, World No. 1 Dinara Safina rallied to defeat Italian Roberta Vinci, 2-6, 7-5, 6-4, to advance to the third round on Tuesday afternoon at the Western & Southern Financial Group Women’s Open in Cincinnati.

Jumping out to an early 2-0 lead, the Russian quickly faded, losing nine straight games to the more consistent Vinci.

“I started pretty good, actually. 2-0 up, and to lose nine games in a row, it didn’t happen for me for a while,” said Safina, a winner of 12 career singles titles.

Vinci, ranked No. 46, was steadier throughout the up and down match, but could not serve out the match at 5-4 in the second set, as Safina eventually won the set, 7-5.

The 23-year-old Russian, who hit 48 unforced errors compared to 28 by Vinci, fell behind 2-0 in the final set before finding her rhythm to sneak past the Italian for the third time in her career.

“Slowly I think she got tight, said Safina, who was a finalist earlier this year at the Australian Open and Roland Garros. “I don’t know what happened to her because I was completely off.

In the match that lasted just under two hours, both players broke serve on eight occasions, while Safina hit 10 doubles faults compared to eight by Vinci. Despite serving struggles throughout, both players won over 60 percent of first serve points.

Safina, who has been the top ranked player in the world for 17 consecutive weeks, will next face the winner of the second round match between Shuai Peng and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez.

In other action, No. 6 seed and reigning Roland Garros champ Svetlana Kuznetsova was pushed to her limits, but survived to advance to the third round with a 6-2, 6-7(2), 7-6(4), win over Lucie Safarova. Kuznetosva, smashed 10 aces, won 78 percent of first serve points and broke serve on five of ten occasions en route to victory.

Defending champion and No. 10 seed Nadia Petrova of Russia and No. 15 seed Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia were not as fortunate as Safina and Kuznetsova to advance, both bowing out relatively easy.

Petrova, a winner of nine career singles titles, lost to Alona Bondarenko of Ukraine, 6-2, 6-3, in 53-minutes. The Belarusian, who turns 25-years-old on Thursday, won 22 of 25 first serve points, while breaking serve four times. For a place in the third round, Bondarenko will battle Daniela Hantuchova, who defeated Sara Errani, 3-6, 6-3, 6-1.

Cibulkova, a semifinalist at Roland Garros in May, fell to world No. 40 Shuai Peng, 6-2, 6-1, in 70-minutes. Peng, who is playing in just her second tournament since Wimbledon, will play Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez on Wednesday afternoon.

Maria Sharapova Makes Triumphant Return to the Courts

Maria Sharapova is back on the courts. And it shows. There is much more media attention after she made a triumphant return. Well it’s not really triumphant just yet. She hasn’t won a tournament yet and watching her play, you notice that she still lacks rythm and routine in her game. However the talent is still there and I am sure she will be back in the top 10 where she belongs.

Though things aren’t going as smoothly as I wish judging by her performance versus Nadia Petrova. In a three set match she eventually managed to beat the Russian in the third set with 8-6.

“Obviously I am spending a little bit more time out there than I want to, but I think I’m learning so many new things, as well,” Sharapova said. “I think this was a great match where I had to fight my way through many, many challenges. And I did.”

“I got off to a really good start,” Sharapova said. “I kind of started stumbling away. Things went in the wrong direction. I was just glad I could pick myself up and keep fighting and do the right things, and end the match with a win.”

And I hope she will keep winning. My prediction however is that she will make it through the first week but will not win the French Open this year. I think that the title this year will go to Dinara Safina.

In the meantime enjoy the photos of her French Open 2009 campaign and let’s see if she makes it through the first week.