It’s all about heart for Melanie Oudin.
The 18-year-old American, who made a huge splash at this year’s US Open by reaching her first career Grand Slam quarterfinal, won the inaugural Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Heart Award on Thursday afternoon. The award is voted on by the public, who cast their votes on the Fed Cup website, during the past week.
Oudin, in Reggio Calabria to compete in the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Final against Italy, was presented with the award by ITF President Francesco Ricci Bitti. The award is designed “to recognise a player who has represented her country with distinction, shown exceptional courage on court and demonstrated outstanding commitment to the team during Fed Cup by BNP Paribas.”
“The heart award was for the player that represented their team the best and fought really hard in other Fed Cups and I’m just so happy I won the award,” said Oudin, who received a special Links bracelet to commemorate the occasion. “It means a lot to me and it’s really special.”
Egleston to benefit from donation
Oudin was asked to select a charity of her choice to receive a $5,000 donation as way of honoring her being named the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Heart Award recipient. The bubbly American didn’t hesitate in picking a beneficiary close to her own heart – Children’s at Egleston – a hospital where her younger sister, Christina, had open-heart surgery that saved her life.
“The charity I chose to give $5,000 to is called Egleston and it’s in my hometown of Marietta, Georgia,” Oudin said. “It specialises in children who have heart problems, especially for transplants. My little sister had open heart surgery at that hospital when she was four-years-old, so it’s very close to my heart. They did such a good job taking care of her and so I’d really like to donate that money to them.”
Ricci Bitti presented the award to the American teen at a press conference held at the Circolo del Tennis “Rocco Polimeni,” who, with its 4,000 member roster, is the second biggest tennis club in Italy.
“Today we announce a very important initiative by the International Tennis Federation and BNP Paribas, what we call the Heart Award, and this award is given today for the first time,” Ricci Bitti said.
“It is given to a player who best represents the spirit of the team competition in general and the Fed Cup competition in particular. You know, to play for your country, we have a slogan that is very significant – “It takes more than skill to play for your country” – it’s a great honor and a great responsibility.”
Breakthrough year for Oudin
Oudin is certainly the breakthrough player of this year on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, a distinction held up by her stunning US Open showing as well as her fourth round appearance at Wimbledon earlier in the summer.
Currently ranked No. 47, Oudin’s been on both previous Fed Cup squads in this, her inaugural season playing in the international team competition for women.
Oudin was active in the first round, going 1-1 in singles against Argentina in the quarterfinal, held in Surprise, Arizona in February. She lost her first ever Fed Cup match, but rebounded at crunch time to win the fourth rubber to send the tie into the decisive doubles fifth rubber – USA prevailed 3-2. In the semifinal tie against Czech Republic, Oudin was on the squad, but remained on the bench.
Lucy Garvin, the USTA President and Chairman of the Board, praised Oudin for winning the BNP Paribas Heart Award.
“We are so proud of Melanie for all that she has accomplished this year, from winning a key match in the Fed Cup quarterfinal against Argentina in February to her amazing run at the US Open,” Garvin said.
“She has been a key member of the 2009 Fed Cup team, and this award is evidence that Melanie’s passion, exuberance and humility have endeared her to tennis fans worldwide. We congratulate the other nominees – Alexa (Glatch), Flavia (Pennetta) and Francesca (Schiavone) for their continued success and contributions to Fed Cup.”
Oudin keeps feet firmly on the ground
Oudin is certainly the most promising women’s player to emerge in the United States as a candidate for future stardom behind the Williams sisters. But she is also very cognizant that she’s at the beginning of her career and that there are going to be good days and bad days ahead.
Level-headed, Oudin is not disturbed that following the US Open she failed to qualify for the main draw at the two WTA events she played in Asia this fall. Right now, she’s concentrating on doing her best to give USA an opportunity to pull off the upset and take home the Fed Cup title for the first time since 2000.
“The US Open was a big deal for me and its one tournament that I just happened to do well in a Grand Slam,” Oudin said. “I think that’s what all the hype was about and everyone expects me to win everything now after I did good in one tournament. I’m still improving and I’m still learning about the game of tennis and I’m working on a lot of different things in my game.
“Everyone has ups-and-downs and I happened to be up at the U.S. Open. I happened to play really, really well and I’m playing well again. I was not playing as well right after and I got a little bit sick, but I’m ready again, I’ll be ready next year and I’ll be ready this weekend to play Fed Cup.”