USTA News Conference with Melanie Oudin and Brian Baker
May 09, 2012An interview with: MELANIE OUDIN and BRIAN BAKER
TIM CURRY: Thanks, everyone, for joining us today.
We have Melanie Oudin here. She's been training on
clay at the USTA Player Development Training Center
here at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in
Flushing, and is headed to France in a few hours.
Brian Baker is joining us from Tampa, Florida, where
he arrived two days ago to do some clay court training
before leaving for France.
They won the USTA's wild cards into the French Open
this year based on the reciprocal agreement we have
annually with the French Tennis Federation. This is the
first year USTA Player Development awarded the wild
cards based on results at the USTA Pro Circuit events,
which made the wild card available to every American
competing in those events. It also allowed the players
to earn ATP and WTA ranking points rather than having
to play a separate event where there were no ranking
points, as we have done with playoffs in the past.
We'll open up the call for questions for both Melanie and
Q. Melanie, why don't you talk a little bit about going
from where you were last year to the last few weeks,
say since Charleston. Your game has picked up a lot.
MELANIE OUDIN: I think last year definitely was a rough
year for me. I think everybody knows that. My results
definitely weren't as positive as they could have been.
But the past couple months, ever since I really started
training in New York with the USTA up here, starting the
tournaments, the first one was Osprey, the second one
was Charlottesville, I've been playing much better at
the Pro Circuit 50s to get the French wild card.It was
definitely a good jump for me. It was definitely a good
sign, I think. It's going to be an a great opportunity
for me to play in the French Open.
Q. Melanie, I know you were on a pretty big losing streak
there. When you actually won three matches to qualify in
Charleston, what were you telling yourself mentally that
you can actually get what you've been doing in practice
into a match and close one out?
MELANIE OUDIN: I think after a losing streak, the first
match that you win is definitely the toughest, getting
through that. After I won that first match, I won pretty
handily the next one. I think that was the toughest step
Since then, I've been much more confident. I mean, every
match I've won I've become a little bit more confident. I
think that's the biggest thing. In Charlottesville, I was really
confident in all my matches and I think that's how I ended
up winning the tournament there.
Q. When you went to work with the USTA in New York,
what were the coaches emphasizing?
What did you get done there to get yourself back on track?
MELANIE OUDIN: You work extremely hard here, four hours
of tennis, about two and a half hours of fitness a day. So it's
definitely a lot of hard work. But also I think Jay Gooding and
Jorge Todero, my coaches now, they really have gotten through
to me a little bit better. They know what to say. I think the
biggest thing was me believing in myself again and getting
confidence again. They definitely have helped with
that a lot.
Q. So moving forward, outside of everyone's expectations which
I'm sure you're ignoring, what would you like to see yourself do
the rest of the year?
MELANIE OUDIN: I mean, my goal right now is really to keep up
what I've been doing. What I've been doing so far since coming
here has been working for me. I'm improving a little bit every
day, every week, every tournament. So hopefully just to keep
that up, hopefully get my ranking up every tournament.
Q. You played all the slams before. But given where you were,
where you are today, must be nice to know you actually managed
to qualify for a major?
MELANIE OUDIN: Yeah, I think it's nice that I earned my wild card
into the tournament. I think that definitely means a lot more than
someone just like giving it to you. I'm definitely really excited, just
really happy to have the opportunity to play there again. I mean,
it's the main draw of a slam. So winning one round there would
really help my ranking a lot.
Q. Brian, getting the wild card, talk to me a little bit about what
you want to see from yourself the next couple months.
BRIAN BAKER: Yeah, I just want to keep the momentum going. I've
been playing well the last couple of months. I'm still not even a
year back of playing full-time tennis. I started last July. I feel like
I'm just now hitting my stride.
I don't have any specific expectations this summer that I have to
get to a certain round or get this many points. But I'd love to keep
on playing great tennis. I think I'll be over there four or five weeks.
Obviously the French will be the biggest one.
Hopefully out of the five weeks I'm over there, I can continue playing
well and try to jump up in the rankings.
Q. Have you decided whether you're going to play Nice qualifying?
BRIAN BAKER: I am. I'm actually leaving a week from tomorrow,
Wednesday the 16th, to go over to Nice. I think the qualies start
the 19th. Whenever that tournament finishes up, I'll head to Paris.
Q. Talk about when you made it to the final in the juniors.
BRIAN BAKER: Yeah, it was a great tournament. For some reason
I've always had success on clay throughout my career. That tournament
is a pretty special tournament. I think I beat Marcos Baghdatis in the
quarters, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the semis and then lost a tough
three-setter to Stan Wawrinka in the final. It's nice to go back to a place
where you have good memories and played well before, even though I
guess it's been eight or nine years since that happened. I don't know how
much stock you can put into that, but it doesn't hurt to have some
Q. Can you specifically say why you think clay suits your game?
BRIAN BAKER: You know, there's not probably one reason that it fits
my game. I've embraced it. I don't have a negative attitude towards
clay, thinking I have no chance when I go out there. Definitely
confident in my ability. I have an all-court game, have some variety.
I think that helps when the points are generally longer, you have to
construct the points a little bit more as opposed to one or two shots
on a hard court. That's probably the main reason. I can use some
touch and mix in some spin as well.
Q. Melanie, what do you think about the system of deciding the wild
card? I know you've been involved with some of the other ones, even
the Australian. What are the pros and cons of having the wild card
decided this way?
MELANIE OUDIN: I think the biggest pro about it was the fact that any
American that was playing those tournaments had a chance to get it.
In past times they have a playoff with only eight players, eight men or
eight women. This time, you look at the draws, at least the women,
and in the second round in one of the tournaments, there were 14
Americans in the second round. It really gave every single American
in those tournaments a chance to win it. I think everyone really liked
I think it was a bit of luck depending on what kind of draw you got in
the tournaments, or if two people that had done well in the first two
tournaments drew each other in the third tournament, whoever won
that was probably going to get the most points.
But even if I didn't win the wild card, I do think it was a good system.
I wonder if they're going to try it again.
Q. Brian, did you know about this before you signed up for those two
BRIAN BAKER: Yeah, I did. I received an email, which I'm sure all the
other U.S. players did,saying the person who got the most cumulative
points between the two would get the wild card. It wasn't something
I put up on the bulletin and this is what I'm going to do, but it was
nice to know that everybody that played it had a shot, every American
that played it had a shot to get it. I knew I had done well on clay in the
past. It wasn't something I was stressing out about before the two
tournaments. By the time I won a couple rounds, I knew I was in the
thick of things, could kind of control my own destiny going forward.
Q. What about having to qualify for these events? Was that a good
thing in your mind for those tournaments or was that something that
added risk to your chances?
BRIAN BAKER: I mean, probably going into it I would have said it
would have been a negative thing just because it put extra matches
on your body. Maybe it will help you play better getting into the first
or second round of the main draw, but normally it will fatigue you a
little bit for the later rounds.
I was fortunate enough in Savannah to get through qualifying fairly
easily. I didn't have any matches. I felt like it helped my game, getting
used to those conditions there, match-like conditions, before anybody
else in the main draw could. It didn't affect me later on in the
tournament because I still felt fresh.
Q. Do you think you would have been invited to a wild card tournament
if they hadn't have done it in this fashion?
BRIAN BAKER: You know, I don't know. I really don't know. Maybe not just
because I'm still coming back. I'm just now getting my ranking back
to a respectable level. So honestly I don't know.
Q. Then I assume you approve of this process compared to the other one?
BRIAN BAKER: Well, yeah. I mean, obviously if you're the one you know
you're going to get picked, it's better chances for you if you know there's
only eight people vying for it. I think this is a fair way to do it. Like
Melanie said, you have situations where somebody can get a better draw
than another. If you play another American, I don't think you can complain
about that. But maybe if you're playing another tough foreigner in a first
round instead of a semi or a final, if you're going to win the wild card,
you're going to have to at least do well at a couple of the tournaments or
win one. Doesn't really matter when you play a great player. You have to
beat everybody. I think this was a fair way to do it. Obviously I liked the
way things turned out.
Q. Melanie, obviously you worked with Brian de Villiers for 10 years or so.
How hard was it or scary to make a coaching change? How did you finally
decide it was time to do something different?
MELANIE OUDIN: Well, after the year I had last year, I decided that probably
it would be smart to make a change. I really didn't know what I was going to
do exactly. But I think I needed to make some kind of change. It was
definitely a little bit scary because Brian is the only coach I've ever really
known. I'd been with him since I was nine years old. It definitely was a big
change. Wasn't really sure what to expect.
Then starting with the USTA in Boca Raton, it was really nice. I think it was
a good change for me. It was definitely a fresh start. I felt a lot better about
everything. Then ended up coming to New York and training here. I really feel
like this is definitely the right place for me because I didn't really have
anything to compare Boca to. It's good. I think I definitely found the plate I
should be training at.
Q. How are you finding New York in comparison to Atlanta?
MELANIE OUDIN: Well, I wouldn't really consider myself a New York City kind
of person because I'm from Atlanta, I'm from the South. It's a lot different
here. People are a lot different also. But I'm definitely getting used to it.
I don't have a lot of time to do much because we're training all the time.
I'm actually staying in Westchester, so not too close to the city.
Q. Last year you said it was really rough. How did you keep your
spirits up, keep plugging away when things weren't going well?
How did you keep yourself positive?
MELANIE OUDIN: Well, people have actually asked me that a lot
lately. I never really gave up. I never really wanted to quit
tennis or anything like that. I still love playing tennis, win or
lose. I knew that at some point I was going to come out of my
slump. It was just a matter of time. You just never know when
it's going to click. Until recently finally it did. Since then, I feel
like winning the first match after a while is definitely the biggest
hump. After you get over that, I feel it's definitely a lot easier and
things come easier. I definitely started playing better and better
each match, started improving and having more confidence along
After winning that USTA Pro Circuit tournament in Charlottesville,
I feel like I'm even more confident now. I feel like I have to keep
growing the confidence, keep working as hard as I can and keep
Q. Are you working on any stroke in particular or is it more the
confidence factor, the all-court factor?
MELANIE OUDIN: It's more of the confidence and the belief again,
sometimes knowing when to hit the right shot. They say there's
nothing wrong with my stroke, it's just really believing in myself
again, really going for it, not putting any pressure on myself.
Q. Brian, this will be your first major Grand Slam since 2005. How
satisfying does that make your comeback? What sort of
expectations do you have? Are you nervous, excited about playing
a Grand Slam for the first time in almost seven years?
BRIAN BAKER: Yeah, I'm really excited for the opportunity. I mean,
one of the main reasons for coming back was to come back and try
to compete to get in the main draw of Grand Slams. Grand Slams
are the pinnacle of tennis. That's the biggest tournaments each year.
Anytime you can play one, it's a great accomplishment. I'm really
looking forward to it.
Of course, I'll probably be a little bit nervous going out there.
But overall, I'm not putting too much pressure on myself. I just
want to go out there and give myself the best chance to
succeed. Doing that, you just have to go out and prepare the
same way you do for any other tournament.
Q. How is your elbow and hip? Are you feeling good again?
BRIAN BAKER: Yeah, I'm still in a process of trying to get as fit
as I can. I'm still able to put in more time each week off the
court than I have been able to.
The body right now, it's feeling better than it has in a long time.
Last year, coming back, I couldn't play a full schedule. After I
played like eight matches in a week tournaments, because I had
to get through qualifying, I had to take a couple weeks off and
recover. Whereas this year, I've been able to play a normal
schedule. I'm hopeful I'll be able to do the same thing the rest
of the year and not worry too much about my body.
Q. Has the comeback been what you expected since you last
played? Has it been better? Has what you achieved exceeded
your own expectations?
BRIAN BAKER: I've always had confidence in my ability if I was
able to stay healthy. The tour definitely has changed. Coming
back, having to play futures after not having to play them since
I was 18, 19 years old. Different scenario when you're one of the
oldest guys playing instead of one of the youngest. Quickly
getting out of futures, getting into challengers, I still have some
buddies I used to train with and turned pro with. It's definitely
been a lot more fun doing that. Hopefully I can keep pushing
through and hopefully start playing some more ATPs.
Q. The motivation to come back last year, was it, Why not give
it a try?
BRIAN BAKER: Right. I felt like I had some unfinished business. It's
not like I stopped tennis because I just got tired of it. It was taken
away because my body wouldn't hold up. I always wanted to come
back, it was just whether I could or not.
When I started feeling good enough to give it a go, I wanted for
sure to do that. I didn't want to be 35 and have to look back and be
like, I wish I had given it one other shot, if for anything else, just
for peace of mind.
Q. How beneficial do you think the USTA Pro Circuit has been for your
BRIAN BAKER: Yeah, even when I was playing before, I played mostly in
the States. It's nice to have so many tournaments that are available to
play so you don't have to travel as much. I think it's a great place to
improve your game, kind of see what you need to do to take it to
the next level. I mean, I had a lot of success on the USTA Pro Circuit.
I'm very grateful that I've had a chance to play in the States. A lot of
countries don't have those opportunities.
MELANIE OUDIN: Yeah, I mean, I agree with what Brian said. I think it
definitely helps a lot. I think it really shows you if you're ready for the
bigger tournaments. I mean, if you're able to do really well in the 50s
and 75s, can win them or whatever, then you're ready for like the next
step. But definitely I think that's where to start. Especially for me, I
feel like playing these challengers is exactly where I need to be right
now to get hopefully a lot of matches and to get my confidence back
and everything. Right now I'm really, really happy they have the Pro
Q. Melanie, in year past the Americans have struggled a bit on clay,
specifically last year. How do you personally approach the French
as well as the Americans as a whole? How do you see them being
able to garner more success this year?
MELANIE OUDIN: Actually, I'm really excited about playing. I really
like playing on the red clay. It's just a little bit hard for me to move
on it sometimes just because I haven't played on it that much. But
I actually train on clay here in New York, indoor clay. At least I've
been getting some practice on it. But, yeah, I'm definitely looking
forward to it.
I think the Americans are going to surprise everybody this year,
hopefully do really, really well at the French Open. I think all the
Americans want to prove everybody else wrong, that we can play
on red clay. Fed Cup, Davis Cup, we've had great wins on the red
clay this year. I really think it's going to be a good year for the
Americans at the French.
Q. Brian, could you answer the same question.
BRIAN BAKER: Yeah, I definitely have enjoyed playing on clay
throughout my career. I have embraced it and I'm looking
forward to going over there and trying to have good results.
With the other Americans, we didn't grow up on this stuff,
so it is a little bit of a disadvantage going over there. If
you really want to improve on the clay, it starts at a younger
age. The 14- and 15-year-olds start to get more practice on
it. As we saw in Davis Cup in France, John Isner had a couple
great wins on clay. There are several other Americans capable
of doing well on clay. I think it depends on the day and who
they play. But I think there's definitely a couple Americans out
there that can go deep in the tournament, for sure.
TIM CURRY: Thanks, everyone, for joining us for the call.
Thanks, Melanie, for taking some time before heading to the
airport, and, Brian, taking time from your training.
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