If we’re getting to the end of the first round of a major, then it must be time to write the whatever-happened-to-Miracle-Melanie Oudin story. It’s now or never, because this is when she leaves. This time, she lost in the first round of the French Open Monday to defending champ Francesca Schiavone. It was 6-2, 6-0.
“Basically,’’ Oudin said, “I pretty much got a claycourt lesson.’’
Oudin, who’s 19, was Miracle Melanie for a week and a half at the 2009 U.S. Open, when she kept beating seeded Russian players and reached the quarterfinals. In some ways, that run might have messed her up, or maybe she just was playing way over her head.
Whatever the reason, here’s a little cold truth: Oudin is a one-hit wonder.
You can cheer for her, hope for her, wait for her. It’s not going to change anything. Oudin is not a top player. She’s a journeyman ranked No. 88 in the world. She has time to get better, but it’s hard to see her ever as a top 25 player.
Oudin never got a grip around her run through the Open. It’s funny because during that Open, she was playing so freely, smashing running forehands down the line. She looked like the real deal and was winning mostly on mental fortitude. Her opponents simply became too jittery under her relentlessness.
By the time she reached the quarterfinals, she was the It Girl of American tennis. John McEnroe was predicting that she would win. And then she nearly panicked under all the attention as she lost to Caroline Wozniacki 6-2, 6-2 in the quarters.
And it wouldn’t have been fair to expect her to keep playing at that level, considering that she had never been there before. But I did expect the same relentlessness.
But she had to live with her miracle, and found expectations were too much for her. Last year at the French Open, she told me she didn’t want to talk about her Miracle run anymore.
“No way I can move on,’’ she said, “if people keep asking me about it.’’
So I asked her about the dreaded three words: One hit wonder.
“I’m only 18,’’ she said at the time. “I definitely think I’ve improved. I’m still as excited and stuff. I realize I belong here now.’’
Belong was certainly a fall from “Believe’’ which she popularized during her Open. That word was her trademark in that 2009 Open.
But by the 2010 U.S. Open, when she lost in the second round, she seemed almost relieved.
The narrative about her now is that she is freed of her Miracle run and can now go about building her game, with one lost year. I don’t know. This year, she has lost in the first round of both majors. In 2010, she lost in the first round twice and the second round twice.
Oudin can still hit her shots, still hit the running forehand. But she doesn’t fully believe anymore. You can argue that she’s on a normal learning curve now, but she’s not getting appreciably better. She’s still too short, at 5-foot-6, for the modern game. She appears to have gained some weight, and even if it’s muscle, it is a mistake; she seemed to be running a little slower Monday.
And worst of all, Miracle Melanie doesn’t have any magic.
She’ll probably have another run deep into a major someday. She’ll have a good pro career and be able to keep playing for the U.S. Fed Cup team.
But she’s not going to replace the Williams sisters as the next great American star.
“I feel like I’m getting better,’’ she told reporters after losing Monday. It’s just taking more time, really, than I was hoping, because I had such a good run at the U.S. Open. But I feel like where my ranking is now is where I should be.
She is still young, but eight players are ranked ahead of her or are no more than one year older than she is. Wozniacki, No. 1, is just more than a year older.
So maybe it’s time to stop with the Whatever-Happened-to-the-Miracle stories. Afterall, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Juan Martin del Potro and Wozniacki all played (and won) on Monday. Her Miracle Run just might have interfered with her reality.
But no matter what happened, the magic isn’t there any more, and there’s no reason to keep writing about it.