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Oudin ends Grand Slam losing streak at French Open

Australia's Samantha Stosur returns in her first round match against Britain's Elena Baltacha at the French Open tennis tournament in Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Sunday May 27, 2012. Australia's Samantha Stosur returns in her first round match against Britain's Elena Baltacha at the French Open tennis tournament in Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Sunday May 27, 2012. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
By Howard Fendrich
AP Tennis Writer / May 27, 2012
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PARIS—It had been awhile since Melanie Oudin felt confident she could win a match at tennis' top tournaments.

And, well, it had been awhile since the surprise 2009 U.S. Open quarterfinalist from Marietta, Ga., actually won one.

Urging herself on with fist pumps and yelps of "Come on!" that her opponent found "a little bit annoying," Oudin overcame a shaky start Sunday to beat Johanna Larsson of Sweden 6-3, 6-3 in the first round of the French Open, ending a five-match Grand Slam losing streak.

"That's the biggest thing when I'm out there: I believe I can win these matches again," said Oudin, who entered the day 0-2 at the French Open and without a victory in a completed main-draw match at any tour-level event in more than a year.

She was part of a 4-for-4 showing by U.S. women Sunday: Seven-time major champion Venus Williams beat Paula Ormaechea 4-6, 6-1, 6-3, Irina Falconi of Atlanta edged Edina Gallovits-Hall 3-6, 6-3, 6-1, and Alexa Glatch of Newport Beach, Calif., eliminated Anna Tatishvili 6-3, 5-7, 6-4.

The 20-year-old Oudin is ranked 269th but got into the field at Roland Garros thanks to a wild card handed out by the U.S. Tennis Association based on results at low-level clay-court tournaments in the United States.

Her ranking dropped outside the top 300 at one point and she wasn't even able to get into qualifying for the Australian Open in January. She lost in the first round at each of her previous four Grand Slam tournaments, and exited in the second round at the 2010 U.S. Open.

"I was putting so much pressure on myself," said Oudin, who will face No. 21-seeded Sara Errani of Italy in the second round. "Now I feel like I am the underdog."

She's rather familiar with that role.

At age 17, an unseeded and unknown Oudin -- with the word "Believe" printed on the sides of her shoes -- knocked off four Russians, including three-time major champion Maria Sharapova and 2008 Beijing Olympic champion Elena Dementieva, during a captivating run at the U.S. Open.

Oudin became the tournament's youngest quarterfinalist since Serena Williams in 1999.

No one counted on her winning as many matches as she did: Her hotel reservation in New York didn't cover enough nights, so she wound up having to change places. It was heady stuff, including a new endorsement Oudin she signed about 20 minutes before heading out for what turned out to be her last match at that U.S. Open.

From there, expectations weighed Oudin down, and losses piled up. Clearly, it was time to change something, so she started by splitting with coach Brian de Villiers last October.

"Not easy, for sure," she said. "I was with him forever, ever since I was a little kid."

Oudin began working with USTA coaches, first in Boca Raton, Fla., and since February in New York, at the same facility where the U.S. Open is played. She's staying with a family in suburban Westchester in New York while still trying to get someone else to rent her old apartment in Florida.

She credits coaches Jay Gooding and Jorge Todero with improving her self-belief.

It all began to turn around when Oudin won two matches in qualifying rounds to get into April's WTA tournament at Charleston, S.C. Before that, she was 0-5 in 2012, including at lower-tier events.

"The hardest part was winning the first match," Oudin said. "Ever since then, I've been playing pretty well. I mean, I haven't been getting tight at all in matches. I haven't been playing with any pressure. I've really been playing to win and playing with much more confidence."

That didn't show right away Sunday against the 80th-ranked Larsson, who upset 2008 French Open champion Ana Ivanovic last year.

Larsson knew all about Oudin's 2009 breakthrough -- and struggles since.

"That was then," Larsson said. "She had not done the same results lately, so I went into the match today thinking I had a good draw."

Oudin -- whose name is pronounced "oo-DAN," because of her French heritage, yet was repeatedly mispronounced by the chair umpire as "oo-DEEN" -- double-faulted on the first point and trailed 2-0.

"I was a little bit nervous. I could tell. I mean, my feet weren't really moving in the beginning. I definitely needed to just loosen up a little bit," Oudin said.

She did, winning 10 of the next 12 games, including 10 consecutive points in one stretch, often yelling "Come on!" after one of her 23 winners or Larsson's 28 unforced errors.

Larsson said she handed Oudin "a present" by playing poorly, something the Swede attributed to an abdominal muscle injury that bothered her most while serving. In the second set, Larsson double-faulted once when her second serve went off her frame and nearly hit the chair umpire.

"I could not play as good as I can," Larsson said. "It was frustrating to see her get so happy after the match."

Given her recent Grand Slam record, Oudin certainly had reason to be excited.

"Right now, whatever I'm doing is definitely working," Oudin said, "because I'm doing much better than I have in a while."

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Follow Howard Fendrich at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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