Tennis fans hoping to catch a glimpse of the Melanie Oudin who made it to the quarterfinals at the 2009 U.S. Open as a 17-year-old left Louis Armstrong Stadium disappointed Monday. Instead of starting another magical run, the Georgia native who now lives in nearby Pound Ridge, N.Y., was bounced in 1 hour, 13 minutes by 15th seed Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic, 6-4, 6-0.
"It was a tough draw for sure," Oudin said. "In the first set it was definitely pretty close, but I never had a break point, which was pretty tough. At one point, on deuce on her serve, she hit a let-cord that bounced twice on the net and then it rolled over. You know that's never a good sign when that happens to you."
Normally a match between a 15 seed and the 107th-ranked player in the world wouldn't be scheduled on the second-largest stadium at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, but Oudin's reputation is still sizable, even if her results since 2009 have been spotty.
She managed to win two qualifying matches and then beat Jelena Jankovic to earn her first WTA tournament title at Birmingham in June. But since the 2009 U.S. Open, Oudin is 72-91 overall. In 2012, you'd be as likely to see her playing in ITF events (tennis' minor leagues) as on the WTA.
"I have a lot of memories from 2009, but that's in the past," she said. "I have to move on from it. It was an unbelievable run for me, but it's in the past and I have to forget about it."
The real problem for Oudin right now is that she doesn't appear to have a shot that opponents need to fear.
Her fastest serve of the day was clocked at a pedestrian 95 mph, and her average second serve was just 78 mph. It practically screamed, "Smack Me!" as is sailed toward Safarova, who was more than happy to oblige on several occasions during the second set. Oudin won just 33 percent of her second-serve points.
Oudin's groundstrokes, which at times had good pace, usually landed in the middle of the court where Safarova could dictate play. Oudin rarely got Safarova on the run.
In a sport filled with serves that break the sound barrier and forehands like Howitzers, Oudin's weapons are her feet and her heart. It's not a knock or a slight, it's reality for the 5-foot-6 right-hander. Without a shot she can use to consistently threaten her opponents, she's got to play clean, efficient, nearly flawless tennis. She can't contend when she makes 27 unforced errors and hits only five winners, as she did Monday, her second-straight first-round exit out of Queens.
Early success in sports can be a blessing and curse. Appearing on talk shows, cashing in on endorsement offers and qualifying for lucrative events are the good part. Meeting everyone's increased expectations -- including your own -- is the tough part.
"It's definitely hard sometimes when I'm playing and everyone is cheering my name," Oudin said. "In a way I know it's supposed to be the best thing and really helpful because everyone supports you but sometimes, in a way, I feel like it's not. I almost feel like I put more pressure on myself when people cheer for me."
Oudin wouldn't change what happened in 2009 and doesn't have regrets.
"The good thing is that I feel like I've been through the good things and the bad things and I'm only 20," she said, "which is pretty weird because I hopefully still have 10 years ahead of me."
Unfortunately for the fans of the smiling young woman who wrote "Believe" on her sneakers three years ago, only doubles and mixed doubles lie ahead at this year's U.S Open.