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Oudin Bleeds Red, White, and Blue vs. Russia in Fed Cup Semis

April 22, 2010 07:00 PM
 

Melanie Oudin

by Rick Vach,
www.ustaflorida.com

No. 31-ranked teenager Melanie Oudin will again take the lead for the U.S. this weekend against the high-powered Russians in the Fed Cup semifinals in Birmingham, Ala., picking up the stars and stripes in the absence of Serena and Venus Williams, both of who passed on the tie citing injuries.

It is a familiar situation for Oudin, who has become accustomed to the lead role since making her debut last year when she lead the U.S. to the final before they came up short against Italy.

"We won our first round [this year] against France 3-0 and got to the final last year without the Williams sisters, so even if we don't have the Williams sisters we have a good team and have a good chance," Oudin, who has quickly transitioned from rookie to Fed Cup veteran, told USTA Florida. "It's funny because in the beginning when I got asked to play last year, for the first time, I never thought I would be able to [crack the starting line-up], and then now I've been the one who has been consistent throughout, and Liezel [Huber] also. Liezel and I have been the two on the team every single time. It's funny, now [U.S. Fed Cup captain] Mary Joe [Fernandez] asks me who I think should on the team also."

Oudin says she would not mind also taking the doubles court this weekend with Huber, who has been a mentor to her and many of the young players on the U.S. squad, including practice partner Sloane Stephens of Boca Raton, Fla.

"I practice doubles with [Huber] a lot actually and I like playing with her," Oudin said. "We actually make a pretty good team -- she's got so much experience, and my groundstrokes help her at the net."

Oudin's eyes get a little wider in reverence when she talks about putting on the U.S. Fed Cup team jacket and taking the court, following in the footsteps of U.S. Fed Cup legends such as Jennifer Capriati, Lindsay Davenport, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Monica Seles -- and of course her captain, Fernandez.

"This will be my fifth one playing in a row on the team so it means a lot playing for my country," Oudin said. "When Mary Joe asked me I said, 'I would love to play!' because it's more than just playing for yourself, it's playing for your country. It means a lot to [tennis fans] in the U.S. also when someone takes the time and goes and plays, because it isn't exactly the best scheduling. It's really the one week when players have off, and that's when Fed Cup is. I really enjoy the week with the team, it's a nice atmosphere."

Oudin is also emotionally invested in the team, and in her short time has experienced some dizzying highs and depressing lows.

"When I helped win the one in Arizona last year, it felt so good, but then losing in the finals in Italy was the worse feeling ever," Oudin said. "I felt worse than even losing in a tournament. It is so much harder losing for the team and the country and everything."

Russia does not bring their "A" team to Birmingham this weekend due to injuries to players such as Svetlana Kuznetsova, Dinara Safina and Maria Sharapova, but they still have a formidable team in No. 6-ranked Elena Dementieva (who Oudin beat last year at the US Open) and Russian rising star Alla Kudryavtseva. Oudin will be partnered in singles by Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who appears fitter and improving week by week since returning from a hip injury.

Oudin also doesn't mind the proximity of the Birmingham tie to her home in Georgia.

"My whole family is coming," Oudin told usta.com. "Not all of my friends can come because they have tournaments, but I have a lot of fans who are coming because it is so close. It should be really exciting. I am looking forward to the fact that it is so close to home."

The U.S. vs. Russia winner will face the victor of the Italy vs. Czech Republic tie in the Fed Cup final. The Tennis Channel will provide live coverage of the U.S. tie at 2 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday.
 

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