Oudin Beats Jankovic, Wins First WTA Title
They had both already made a big statement - Jelena Jankovic rebounding from a disastrous clay court season to reach her first WTA final since last year, Melanie Oudin reaching her first WTA final at all after disappearing into relative obscurity the last few years. But in the end Oudin made the biggest statement in Birmingham, winning the AEGON Classic.
Oudin made headlines around the world in 2009, bursting into prominence with a run to the fourth round of Wimbledon and, a few months later, a run to the quarterfinals of the US Open. She would go as high as No.31 in the world - but whether it was the pressure or a bigger target on her back, the rise became a freefall, and coming into Birmingham this week she was down at No.208.
"One of the worst times was after Wimbledon last year," Oudin said. "It was the end of my Europe trip and I think I lost every match. I lost first round in like five or six tournaments, except for one. I felt horrible. I thought for sure things would be better. I took time off after that and was fresh and ready to go, but things still weren't better. I was waiting for something to happen and it didn't.
"But at the US Open in 2009, and Wimbledon that year too, something came out of nowhere. And it felt like that was going to happen again here."
Not only did Oudin not get into the 56-size main draw in Birmingham, she wasn't even seeded in the qualifying - needless to say she was an unlikely bet at the start of the week. But little by little, she toughed each match out.
"Even my first round qualifying match, the tie-break was 11-9 or something," Oudin said. "I had a lot of three-setters and was so close to losing other sets too, but I felt I was getting better and better each match. And I didn't want to get excited about any of the wins this week, because I wanted to keep it going."
Oudin survived rain delays and tough opponents to make her first WTA final, then put on a strong performance to beat No.5 seed Jankovic, 64 62. She is the lowest-ranked player to win a WTA title since an unranked Kim Clijsters won the 2009 US Open - where Oudin coincidentally made her own magical run.
"I played smart today," Oudin said. "I'd hit one shot then hit a totally different shot like a slice or drop shot. I also held my ground well and used her pace. She's really consistent but by doing all that I got her to make some errors. I don't think she served as well as she did yesterday, but I'll take it.
"I've learned a lot about my game, how I want to play, how to play within myself and not trying to do more than I can. That's what I did really well all week."
The win shaved over 80 spots off her ranking - from No.208 to No.122 this week. The result also brought her a wildcard for Wimbledon next week.
"I knew the only way I would get a wildcard was if I did really well here - but I wasn't even going to think about it," she said. "I didn't want to put any pressure on myself. I just wanted to play - if I got the wildcard, great. If I didn't, I'd go home and train then play the US hardcourt series. I was okay either way.
"I'll be celebrating all of this for sure, though. But now I'm going to Eastbourne, not to play, but to train with Christina McHale for next week."
After a series of first round losses during the clay court season, then a second round loss at Roland Garros, Jankovic was playing her first WTA final since Cincinnati last year. The former World No.1 is now 12-15 in WTA finals.
"Melanie played very solid. She didn't really give me much and was striking the ball so well, not making any mistakes," Jankovic said. "I had to work hard for every point but unfortunately was missing a lot and not getting behind the ball well. And every time I had control I was too erratic when I shouldn't have been. You have to give all credit to her - she played well throughout the whole week.
"Overall I'm pleased with the week. It was my first week back on grass and to be in this stage of the tournament is always great. I can't complain."