Reported by Sports Illustrated
BIRMINGHAM, England — Winning two matches in one day and being awarded a Wimbledon main draw wild card? Not a bad day’s work for Melanie Oudin.
After a week of rain at the AEGON Classic pushed the completion of the women’s quarterfinals to Sunday, Oudin, now ranked No. 208, finished her suspended match by beating fellow American Irina Falconi 6-4, 5-7, 7-5 to make her first WTA Tour semifinal since Paris 2010. She was back on court two hours later to contest that semifinal against Ekaterina Makarova, who beat Serena Williams at the Australian Open. Not a problem for Oudin, who beat the Russian 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 to advance to her first career WTA final, where she’ll face former No. 1 Jelena Jankovic on Monday. And to put a cherry on top of what was a career day, Oudin learned that she had been given a main draw into Wimbledon.
Jankovic herself had a full day, playing almost five full sets in the span of four hours, beating Misaki Doi in her quarterfinal 6-3, 6-4, and then surviving a tight semifinal clash against 2008 Wimbledon semifinalist Zheng Jie, 6-7 (2), 7-5, 6-1. Jankovic, who recently hired Zeljko Krajan (former coach of Dinara Safina and Dominika Cibulkova), has unveiled a noticeably more aggressive game this week, with positive results. Her serve has been more of a weapon than in the past and, quite surprisingly, the traditional baseline counterpuncher has been trying to work her way to the net.
Though her intention of approaching the net is good, it’s what happens when she’s up there that’s still a work in progress. Jankovic often found herself stuck in no-man’s land after hitting an approach shot, getting passed with regularity by Zheng. But Jelena says it’s all part of her becoming a more complete player.
“My goal is to play more offensively,” Jankovic told reporters, “to use my shots and more variety, to be kind of a complete player. To have every shot in the book but do it very well. I’m trying to do that, I improved my serve, I’m coming in, I’m striking the ball much cleaner with a faster pace, which is important. Overall I think I’m improving. That’s my goal. I have no goals when it comes to rankings. My goal is just to get my game up there.”
In their sole meeting, Oudin upset Jankovic at Wimbledon in 2009. Jankovic famously attributed the loss to “women’s problems” and made it known that she was less than impressed with Oudin’s game. ”She cannot hurt you with anything,” Jankovic said after that third-round match. “She doesn’t have any weapons, from what I’ve seen. If I felt a little bit more fresh at the end of that second set, I could have won in two sets. She doesn’t make so many mistakes. But she doesn’t do anything, either, so it’s like she’s depending kind of on you.”
Oudin obviously has different memories of that match.
“The one thing I remember about that match, someone told me right before the match that I was playing on the Graveyard Court, where the seeds had lost,” Oudin said. “I was only 17 and she was someone I looked up to. There was a chance, of course, that I thought I could win. But I knew it was going to be extremely tough. I didn’t really expect myself to win.”
Oudin says her self-belief has been building since Charleston (where she won back-to-back matches for the first time since 2010 and qualified for the main draw), and while she may have dismissed the importance of confidence before, now she’s realizing it means everything.
“The confidence is a huge thing,” she said. “As much as I didn’t think it was, it is much more. Even closing out a match. Like the first match point and you’re able to close that one, I feel like before I would completely doubt myself and worry, ‘Oh, no, I don’t know if I can even win this one.’ And now I feel really confident I really can.”