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At 18 years of age, Melanie Oudin’s physique is similar to Belgium’s 27-year old Justine Henin. They are both 5’6”. Melanie outweighs Justine by a muscular 4 pounds.
Henin has navigated the tour quite successfully, thank you. Even after her nearly two-year layoff, Henin has banked more than $19 million in tour earnings. After a limited year on the tour, Melanie Oudin banked a cool $450,000. She’s pretty happy about that.
All along Oudin has viewed Henin as her role model. Joined by their need to overcome their vertical challenges, the Georgia native sees to be mirroring Justine’s career path. Eventually, she will develop a serve that will be more offensive than defensive. With experience, she will learn the other competitor’s nuances.
En route to her seven Grand Slam titles, Henin has had to travel the same path. She learned to serve. She learned to spot weaknesses and turn disadvantage to advantage.
She is a first-rate fighter, a superior competitor with as strong a will to succeed as exists on the tour today. Justine Henin and Melanie Oudin embody the role of underdog, overachiever.
They do not whine, complain or suffer the fans to obnoxious prima donna outbursts. No, they lift their heads and go back to what they do best; chasing down shots from bigger, stronger athletes and using the momentum ad energy of those shots to keep those bigger, heavier competitors on the courts for ungodly lengths of time.
In the stifling Australian summer, that works. Even in the American fall, that works. Perhaps in Paris it is a problem, but this year, on these fast, hot surfaces, these two may go down, but their opponents will know they were in a dogfight and know they have to overcome all that passion on the other side of the net.
The two mighty mites have stern tests ahead. Unseeded and comparatively unheralded, it is not inconceivable that these two could meet in the finals. Unlikely, yes. Impossible, no.
Henin, who reached the finals in Brisbane before dropping a tight three setter to Clijsters last weekend, is in the toughest bracket in all of Melbourne.
Her path to the finals includes likely pairings with 5th seed Elena Dementieva (2nd round), Alisa Kleybanova (3rd round), Flavia Pennetta (4th round), Clijsters in the quarters and Sharapova in the semis. If Justine makes the finals, just maybe the former number one could be seeded in Paris, where she has won an astounding four times.
For Oudin to play Henin, she will have to manage underdog victories against Aggie Radwanska (2nd round), Francesca Schiavone (3rd round), Venus Williams (4th round), Caroline Wozniacki (quarters) and Serena Williams in the semis. By any standard, that is a tall order for a short teenager.
But, remember, the 17-year old knocked off Jankovic at Wimbledon, Dementieva, Sharapova and Kuznetsova in New York last year. It is safe to say that 2nd seeded behemoth Dinara Safina has never had a Grand Slam like that!
Go get ‘em mighty mites! Be perky, pesky and keep ‘em running side to side in that brilliant Australian sun. Keep your composure, honor the game and don’t be afraid to enjoy the moment. The world is your oyster.
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