American Morning

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September 9th, 2009
10:11 AM ET

Ice cream reward for teen tennis star? Coach says 'maybe'

She missed her junior prom, homecoming too. But for 17-year-old Melanie Oudin, it's all good. Or as she might say, it’s awesome.

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/09/09/oudin.melanie.gi.art.jpg caption="Melanie Oudin returns a shot against Nadia Petrova of Russia during day eight of the 2009 U.S. Open on September 7, 2009."]

She is a teenager from Marietta, Georgia and the toast of this year's U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York. To reach tonight's quarterfinal she beat four Russian players including the thirteenth seed, Nadia Petrova.

“This is my dream forever. I’ve worked so hard for this and it's finally happening. I'm in my first quarterfinal of a grand slam. So, it's amazing,” she says.

Brian de Villiers is Melanie Oudin’s coach. He joined John Roberts and Kiran Chetry on CNN’s “American Morning” Wednesday. Below is an edited transcript of the interview.

Kiran Chetry: They're calling this the Cinderella story of the U.S. Open. How do you feel that she's gotten this far?

Brian de Villiers: Obviously I’m very excited and thrilled for her. Like she said, she's worked so hard for this. It's taken nine years to get here, so she's excited. We're all excited. And I'm just hoping she performs well.

John Roberts: In terms of her development, she was a wild card going in. She turned pro in April of 2008. She was a wild card going in to last year's U.S. Open. She lost in the first round. She made it to the quarters of Wimbledon. She's in the quarters this year. What is it that has made the difference between last year and this year?

De Villiers: I think last year she felt a lot of pressure. The girl she played – she knew from the juniors and it was a wild card U.S. Open – first time in the main draw in that. And she put a lot of pressure on herself. I think coming into it this year she has a little more experience from Wimbledon. And just over the year her game is finally starting to click. She's figuring things out and she’s playing a lot smarter.

Chetry: How do you mentally get her prepared for not only the game but all of the hype surrounding it? Now she is a household name. She beat four big seeded Russian players and now she’s heading into this tonight. What are you telling her about staying mentally prepared?

Watch Oudin's coach discuss her game Video

De Villiers: Look, that's her biggest strength. Mentally she is incredibly tough. She doesn't get fazed by all of the attention yet. She's very well-grounded. We have a bunch of friends from the academy up here so she's hanging out with buddies, people that she trusts and she knows that we really support her. And I think she'll be fine. Like I said, that's her big strength.

Roberts: My understanding is that Justine Hennin was really kind of like her role model. She retired last year, still ranked number one in the world. And many said that not only are they the same height but the same type of player as well. You get these big Russian women, way back at the baseline pounding the shots. She has a whole arsenal of really interesting shots. She's got good backhand. She’s got the shot from the baseline but she’s also got a lot of good cut shots. She can drop something in short of the net. Have you worked on her skills because of the height difference of being a shot maker?

De Villiers: When I started working with her I knew she wasn't going to be tall and I knew she'd never be a big first strike player. So she had to rely on a lot of variety, a lot of speed, and of course mental toughness. So that's all we work on.

Roberts: Some say the way she plays is the way tennis should be played.

De Villiers: That's what I think. I'm old school. So I like to see a lot of slice, a lot of variety, a lot of mixing it up. But with the technology and the size of the athletes today, I mean the game has changed and you have to deal with what you have, so she's smart about that.

Chetry: She's 17-years-old. She's one of the youngest players out there that’s made it this far. How does she sort of balance that – being a teen? She talked about being home schooled and that made a difference so she could practice and tour as much as she does. How does that factor into all that's happening and being here at the quarterfinals?

De Villiers: You know, a lot of the top girls are pretty young as well. … So she's kind of on track with her age. And you know the other thing, that’s why I brought up some of her friends from Atlanta, just to keep her a little more grounded and just to have fun with it.

Roberts: In winning the matches she has, she lost the first set and then came back to win the next two. She doesn’t’ seem to be afraid to lose and then come back. Why does it not faze her?

De Villiers: She believes in herself. She prides herself being in incredibly good shape. And she knows if a match goes the distance the advantage will swing her way.

Chetry: What type of relationship do you have in terms of how you keep her spirits up and how you interact with each other? She joked around that you were going to let her eat ice cream if she got through this round.

De Villiers: Maybe. No, I’ve been very tough on her over the years and just trying to keep her disciplined and grounded and give her a good work ethic. And she has the drive and the passion and she loves it so she's quite willing to do it.


Filed under: Sports
soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. Okey Moronu

    Even here, where we want to encourange and appreciate the performance of an up and coming young player, some hate messages appear. What is happening to America?

    Statements like eric Payson's "her all-American complexion" or Joseph Woosely's "I like real American doing so well ..."; or Jim whose comments are not even worth repeating.

    Guys, like every other player flying the American flag is a real American. By the way, Melanie lineage is French. Like most real Americans, an imigrant lineage. Lets cut the crap and enjoy the young woman. She is trying to do something that has not been done since Serena Williams, ie, win US open at age 17, a no mean feat.

    We should all borrow a leaf from Serena's interview statement : Paraphrasing Serena when asked about thoughts on Melanie's performance

    "It is very encouraging to see the emergence of the next generation of American players playing so well. It is nice to be answering questions about American player again instead of players from other countries. It is very nice"

    September 10, 2009 at 8:16 am |
  2. Tarviler

    COME ON JOHN!!!!!! If you had a reservation and was checking in.......You'd bounce the Pope to get your room let alone a tennis player..... She learned to have faith in her obvious abilities.

    September 10, 2009 at 8:09 am |
  3. Peter Thompson

    Serena will blow Oudin out of the water if she makes it to the finals.
    IT will be a sight to behold.

    September 9, 2009 at 5:40 pm |
  4. Honky

    She is so great I love watching her play!

    -Honky

    September 9, 2009 at 1:06 pm |
  5. eric Payson

    She is an energizing and humanizing figure in a sport replete with the most stoic of figures. She is accessible as someone who reminds us of our daughter's and sisters. Her all-American complexion and feisty nature have put life in the sport. Where she goes from here will depend on her ability to contend with the games greatest players, both of whom are still alive in this tournament and both of whom play a big game. It's been fun watching Marrietta Melanie

    September 9, 2009 at 1:03 pm |
  6. nnt

    As a tennis fan Melanie has been "awesome" to watch. Regardless of her final result at this year's Open, she should feel immensely proud of her achievement. She definiely has a great tennis future ahead of her.

    September 9, 2009 at 12:59 pm |
  7. Angus

    You go and win the tournament! You are quite an inspiration to young American girls on the tour. We need a new face and attitude on the tour. Congratulations on your success thus far!

    September 9, 2009 at 12:58 pm |
  8. Nakina

    Wonderful ambassador of the game. Makes all Americans proud. Good luck.....see you in the semi's.

    September 9, 2009 at 12:58 pm |
  9. John Devers

    Go Melanie! I haven't folled tennis in 20 years–the men never were interesting and there's been no women players since Steffi that were worth watching. You are what the sport needs to get people interested again.

    September 9, 2009 at 12:57 pm |
  10. Rick

    great interview, really nice insights from her coach. He sounds like a class act and she sounds like a great story with awesome potential. I haven't actually seen her play yet, I've just read about her and all the buzz with her custom BELIEVE shoes she did with adidas. After reading this though, now I REALLY want to catch this match tonight to watch her play and see what all the fuss is about.

    September 9, 2009 at 12:48 pm |
  11. Rosa Dias

    Truly an inspiration to watch. I sit and watch Melanie with such hopes for her to succeed. It is nice to see a young lady so focused and determined to be the best she can be. Great role model!

    September 9, 2009 at 12:46 pm |
  12. DYLAN RIVIS

    What a joy it is to watch Melanie Oudin, with her indominateable spirit, fight tooth and nail for every point. One of the first T-Shirts (unfortunately,for women only) that I've found online says' MELANIE OUDIN (US Flag) YES SHE CAN !'
    Believe it..she does..and so do I !!

    September 9, 2009 at 12:46 pm |
  13. elizabeth langston

    Go Melanie!!!!!!!!! Keep focus and win today!!!!!!!!!

    September 9, 2009 at 12:42 pm |
  14. Jim

    Thanks Melanie! You're keeping that Obama scumbag off the TV when I'm at the gym.

    September 9, 2009 at 12:41 pm |
  15. Joseph Woosley

    I really like seeing a real american doing so well in the women's half of the US Open! 🙂 Not to mention she's cute. 🙂

    September 9, 2009 at 12:37 pm |
  16. Dawn

    Melanie is Awesome

    September 9, 2009 at 12:37 pm |
  17. raj

    Great, Go Melanie!

    September 9, 2009 at 12:36 pm |
  18. Shaft

    Go Serena! Oops, wrong blog...

    September 9, 2009 at 12:20 pm |
  19. Gerry Martin

    Oudin a breath of fresh air and a great representative of our crop of teen agers and tennis brings that out in her! Love her focus and drive! Go Melanie! She and DeVillers are a great team!

    September 9, 2009 at 12:05 pm |
  20. BruceMpls

    Melanie Oudin just might be America's next answer to the Cold War.

    September 9, 2009 at 12:02 pm |
  21. Nic

    Go Melanie!

    September 9, 2009 at 11:05 am |