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?
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.