No Oudin-ary girl this!

No Oudin-ary girl this!

Personality Melanie Oudin

No Oudin-ary girl this!

On sun-soaked tennis courts last Tuesday afternoon, tweens and young teens thwacked balls as their coaches sporadically name-dropped to emphasise an instructional point.

Melanie, they would say, as in Oudin -- no surname necessary. Melanie Oudin, the 17-year-old who has taken US Open hearts hostage, is one of them, a student of her coach Brian de Villiers' tennis institute at the Racquet Club of the South, and any lesson that references her is most likely absorbed.

Even after her first big brush with fame, advancing to the fourth round at Wimbledon this summer, Oudin eagerly stood before them to demonstrate a technique for de Villiers. The audience, some of them restless, became laser-focused, observers say.

When a water leak flooded the courts, Oudin fetched a squeegee and mopped up alongside the rank and file. She is known to pick up litter on the grounds.
"She's a prodigy, but not a prima donna," said John Hoback, a middle-age club member whom she addresses as Hoback.

Though Oudin made her career choice at age 9, she has maintained some normalcy in a profession that can oppress players with a sense of entitlement.  Eschewing the live-in tennis academies that draw racquet-wielding whiz kids, she stayed at home in Marietta.
She would occasionally defer practice, with de Villiers' consent, to shop or watch movies with friends.  Oudin did opt for home-schooling -- her idea, not her parents' -- but that has become the norm for top-shelf Generation Z players who require four hours minimum of training daily and crisscross the nation to tournaments.

One of Oudin's weapons is an even-keeled nature that has impressed coaches for years. "If she'd miss a shot, she'd move on," said Richard Ashby, a national coach with the US Tennis Association, who has watched her for four years. "If you hadn't seen the shot, you'd look at her and wouldn't know she's made a mistake."

The trait has served Oudin well at the Open, where she tends to spot her foe a set before fighting back. "I don't teach her competitiveness," de Villiers said. "That's what comes from within her, and that's what's pulling her through."

Yet, he does not coddle her. They may delay practice until evening, but it is not cut short or ever made easy.
"I think when you go through the pain barrier a couple times in training, and you feel like you've earned something, then you're less likely to want to throw it away," de Villiers said.

De Villiers credits her parents, Leslie and John, with a hands-off approach, allowing him to call the shots, in more ways than one. "I think that's why it's worked," he said. "The parents have been great in that they've given her the opportunity to pursue it and have supported her, and they haven't fussed with me."

Oudin's family tree is flecked with tennis. Frank Willett, a great uncle known as Buckshot, was a national boys indoor champion in the 1930s and a '61 inductee to the Athletics Hall of Fame at Georgia Tech, his alma mater.

"He was good at every phase of the game," Dan Magill, a retired coach and Georgia tennis historian, said of Willett. "Very talented." Joan Robertson of Marietta, Melanie's grandmother, is a lifelong player who still rallies at age 77. It was Robertson who introduced Oudin, then 9, to de Villiers, who promptly became her tennis mentor.

One feature her ancestors could not pass down was height. Oudin is 5 feet 6 inches, a munchkin among the sport's towering figures. "I'm praying for another inch," de Villiers said, "but I don't think I'm going to get it."

To her fellow club members, young and old, many of whom who gathered again on Wednesday night in the club restaurant to cheer long distance but to no avail as she lost to Caroline Wozniacki in the quarterfinals, Oudin stands tall.
Even when she is bent over a squeegee or a piece of trash.

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