When one thinks of the major sports in the United States, football, baseball, and basketball are the mainstays in our society. Sure some may make an argument for hockey, auto racing, or the most popular international sport of soccer, but very few would think of tennis. After the latest run at the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, NY, however, the popularity of tennis may increase dramatically. At the young age of seventeen years old Melanie Oudin may be just what the sport of tennis needed to increase its popularity and ratings in the United States.
At the age of seventeen, most of us are attending high school, thinking about what college we want to attend, working to earn money, and figuring out what we want to do with our lives. Yet at that same age Melanie Oudin gained an entire nation’s weight on her shoulders seemingly overnight. Oudin, appearing in only her second U.S. Open, defeated high ranked and well known opponents such as 29th ranked Maria Sharapova, 13th ranked Nadia Petrova, and 4th ranked Elena Dementieva, until finally falling to 8th ranked Caroline Wozniacki in the quarter-finals. Her loss may be a disappointment, however, Oudin’s run at the Open has given new life to the sport of tennis in the United States.
Oudin’s demeanor, on and off the court won over many tennis fans, as well as numerous other American sports fans. Accomplishing this long run into a major tennis tournament at such a young age gives the American fan base someone to cheer for. In addition, written on her shoes was the phrase “*Believe*” and that is exactly what her accomplishments have given to other teenagers aspiring to be tennis greats, someone to believe in, and strive to be. From her “Come on!” motivational phrase on the court, to the “Believe” t-shirts in the stands, Oudin accomplished more than most teens could ever dream of accomplishing. She transformed herself from a young tennis unknown in the world, to overtaking former teen phenom Maria Sharapova in media attention in a matter of just a few days.
This dedicated, hard-working, “normal” teenaged athlete is exactly what the sport of tennis needed in this nation. Sure, Serena and Venus Williams have been dominating the sport of tennis for many years, but their reign will start to fade in the upcoming years. As for men’s tennis, Andy Roddick had the opportunity to be the superstar the U.S. needed, but he could never overcome the dominance of Roger Federer. But Melanie, although she did not win this tournament, proved she can play with and beat the elite players in women’s tennis at her young age. If Melanie can continue to improve and begin winning titles she will gain an entire nation’s support. Oudin doesn’t need to be as dominate as Tiger Woods in golf, or even as dominate as the Williams sisters have been in tennis, she just needs to consistently play well. Her average teenager persona combined with her small stature, work-ethic, never quit attitude, and attractive appearance make her an athlete everyone can relate to.
Tennis has had many phenoms come and go, from Anna Kournikova, who relied on her looks rather than her play, to Maria Sharapova who, after winning Wimbledon, has also begun relying on her looks as opposed to dominating her opponents, to the new stars Maria Kirilenko, Caroline Wozniacki, and Oudin herself. The thing that makes Oudin stand out over the other new teenage sensations is her origin, this is the first time in years young teenage girls have had a sports icon from our nation to idolize. If Oudin can continue performing to this standard and continue the hype that surrounded her at this year’s U.S. Open, tennis may have found just what it needed to make a resurgence in popularity in the American society.
Oudin could not have chosen a better venue to make a deep run in a major tournament. An American tournament, with an American youngster playing her heart out created an explosion of excitement and support. Asking a seventeen year old girl to carry an entire nation on her shoulders may be alot to ask, but if she can continue impressing Americans and winning their hearts over, she may just become the most popular tennis player in this nation, as well as creating a rise in high school tennis enrollment.
Oudin’s emergence as a young star may have more of an impact than any other sports story in the next few years. She can positively impact the lives of tennis fans, sports fans, and teenage athletes concurrently. In a society filled with law breaking, offensive, and unappreciative athletes being paid massive amounts of money to continue causing problems, Oudin epitomizes how an athlete should act. She loves to compete and play the game and does so without off court issues. Sure, she’s only a teenager, but dealing with the excessive media attention, and her heartbreaking loss as well as she did Wednesday evening, can teach many other professional athletes what class is. As she continues to grow into a star one can only hope she can continue her extraordinary play, help impact the lives of many young athletes and improve the popularity of tennis.
All photos courtesy of Google Image Search.