Since advancing to the fourth round at Wimbledon in late June, Melanie Oudin of Marietta, Ga., has continued her rise to a career-high ranking of No. 68 on the Sony Ericcson WTA Tour. In a recent interview with SI.com, the 17-year-old discussed life as a qualifier, her decision to be home-schooled and her views on grunting.
SI.com: What is your mind-set for pre-tournament qualifying matches?Oudin: It's an advantage sometimes. Playing two or three trying matches before the main draw is tough, but it can also prepare you. At Wimbledon it helped me because I got three matches on the grass, which I don't get to do very often. It's like a separate tournament. My last qualifying match at Wimbledon, I was just feeling it. My timing was 100 percent on. I felt like I could hit anything. I got a few net cords that went over. I went for my shots and everything went in. Sometimes I would just hit the line. My serve was on. The ball looked like a volleyball. I wish I could play like that all the time. You have to take advantage of it when that happens.
SI.com: That feeling obviously carried over to a degree. What was it like gaining your biggest win, against Jelena Jankovic, who appeared to be facing physical issues during the third-round match?
Oudin: I don't really pay attention to my opponents. I just try to focus on what I am doing in a match. I don't know if there was anything wrong with her, but it looked like there may have been. She was struggling with the heat even though it was only 85 degrees. I thought I had a pretty good match. If you go out on the court, you shouldn't have any more excuses.
SI.com: What was your family's reaction to that victory?
Oudin: I talked with them on the phone immediately afterward. They just said, "We're coming to London." I didn't even have a choice. I saw them while I was warming up for my match [against Agnieszka Radwanska in the fourth round]. I got to hug them and see them. It was nice that they were really there.
SI.com: At 5-foot-6, your idol is the undersized retiree Justine Henin. What do you take from her game?
Oudin: Everyone has their secret weapons. Henin played with such variety and was so quick. She used the court so nicely and used so many shots. If you're smaller, you have to learn to play like that. You're not going to be able to come up with a big serve at match-point down like the Williams sisters do. They can come up with huge shots because of their power and serve when needed.
SI.com: Marion Bartoli has beaten you twice this year. What does she do most effectively?
Oudin: She's very good at what she does. She can stand on the baseline and hit the ball as hard as she possibly can and it can go in every single time. If you do not get aggressive on her and play her smartly, she will take advantage of you. I lost to her at Stanford [last month] and she won the tournament. I'm looking forward to playing her again.
SI.com: The loudest you seem to get on the court are your "Come on!" shouts at yourself after points. What is your position on grunting?
Oudin: I don't think that you have to grunt. Breathing out is good when hitting the ball. Different people have their different ways. There should be a limit to how loud it can be. I don't really grunt ever.
SI.com: Growing up, you chose to be home-schooled while your twin sister, Katherine, decided to go the more traditional route. Have you ever played together?
Oudin: Not since 14-year-olds-and-under. We had different goals after that. She still plays for her high school team in Atlanta and they won states. I decided to be home-schooled in seventh grade at 13. That was the first time we were ever separated. We both support each other despite our different goals. Sometimes it's good to go different ways. With how much I improved in the first year at home, I knew it was the right choice.
There are other twins out there. The Bryan brothers, whom I had met before, called after I did well at Wimbledon. They're the opposite of my sister and me. We don't even look alike, let alone look like sisters.
SI.com: Staying in the family. Tennis has been ravaged by gambling scandals in the last year. As a frequent gin-rummy player, just how high are the stakes in your games with your grandmother?
Oudin: She has years of experience to draw from, but we enjoy our cards. I haven't played that often since I've been on the road. Can't wait to play again.