Back from injury, Oudin defends Las Vegas title

While most professional tennis players are winding down their 2014 season, Melanie Oudin is in the middle of hers.

A debilitating illness struck Oudin in November, and she was unable to play for almost four months. She has struggled with her consistency but she is hoping to recapture the quality of play that enabled her to win the 2013 Party Rock Open at the Darling Tennis Center. Oudin is in town to defend her title in the re-branded Red Rock Pro Open, which begins play today at Red Rock Country Club.

“It’s been a tough season,” said Oudin, who is ranked No. 124 in the world in singles in the Women’s Tennis Association’s computer rankings. “I’m trying to be patient, and I’m seeing some things in my game that are encouraging. I’m serving better. I’m hitting my backhand better. I’m moving forward and fighting harder on each point.”

Oudin woke up one morning in early November in her Florida home and found her arms had swelled. She had been engaged in some heavy weight-training sessions, and the muscles had ruptured as a result. She had rhabdomyolysis, and the cure was rest and rehydration.

“For two months, I didn’t do anything,” said Oudin, who will celebrate her 23rd birthday today. “It took so much out of me. But I actually got back quicker than most people who have it. But everything in my game was gone — my timing, my footwork. It was like starting over.”

She returned to competitive tennis in April. Her best performance this year in singles came in mid-July at Carson, Calif., when she reached the final but lost to Nicole Gibbs.

Perhaps a return to Las Vegas will give her a sense of deja vu. She outlasted Coco Vandeweghe in three sets to win the Party Rock title last September on a hot day, and Oudin said the change of venue shouldn’t have an impact on her game.

“I’ve played at Red Rock before; it’s a nice facility,” said Oudin, who plays her first singles match Wednesday. “I like the tournament a lot, but it’s not going to be easy to repeat. There’s a lot of good players, and it’s a strong field. There’s so much depth in women’s tennis now that players are going wherever they can to try and get (rankings) points.”

Las Vegas’ Asia Muhammad, who is having arguably the best year of her career, needed a wild-card exemption to be in the 32-player field. Muhammad, who is ranked No. 243 in singles and No. 116 in doubles, has three wins in doubles this year and made it to two other finals. She plays her first singles match today on the Stadium Court.

Also in the field is Nicole Vaidisova, who is making a comeback after retiring from tennis in 2010 after being ranked as high as No. 7 in the world in 2007.Tereza Smitkova, Vaidisova’s countrymate from the Czech Republic who is ranked No. 87 in the world, is the top seed in the singles field.

There’s a large contingent of American players. In addition to Oudin, who is the No. 6 seed, and Muhammad, Anna Tatishvili, who’s ranked 101st and is seeded third this week, Madison Brengle, (110), Irina Falconi (128) and Julia Boserup (194) are playing at Red Rock.

Oudin said while repeating as champion would be wonderful, she’s also realistic. While she is healthy, her game is still coming together and she’s trying to use tournaments such as this week’s to get her prepared for the 2015 season and the Australian Open in January.

“I’m not feeling a lot of pressure to win,” she said. “I just want to play well.”

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.

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