Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

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Your Kid's Not Going Melanie Oudin, so put that tennis racket back on the shelf

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Could your child be a future tennis pro? No, yours could not.

Even though she bowed out of the quarterfinals, and the tournament is still going on as I type this, the buzz from this year’s U.S. Open tennis championships was, is and shall be the emergence of 17-year-old Melanie Oudin. The Marietta, Ga., native followed up an out-of-nowhere run to the fourth round of Wimbledon (which included a defeat of former No. 1 Jelena Jankovic) with her run in New York, only a year after her junior Grand Slam career was coming to a crashing end.

Why the excitement? Right now the only American female players of note are the Williams sisters, who emerged more than a decade ago and are now pushing 30. But that’s not all. Unlike the Venus and Serena Williams, Oudin’s story is more accessable for budding tennis pros. And I don’t mean because she’s white and the Williams sister are, um, not, though I can’t totally discount America’s tendency to embrace little white girls over big black girls as a factor in Oudin’s sudden popularity.

Oudin’s father is not an overbearing crazy person like Richard Williams, shoving a racket in his daughter’s hand at a tender age. (Though in the history of crazy tennis dads, Williams looks as serene as Mike Brady.) Oudin is around five-and-a-half feet tall and 130 pounds, not six-foot-plus like the Williams sisters and nearly everyone else in tennis outside of, say, Kim Clijsters. Oudin’s game has none of the power of today’s women’s players, instead relying heavily on fundamentals and technique. (Not that the Williams sisters know nothing of fundamentals, but without them Oudin doesn’t even sniff the court.) And Oudin wasn’t shipped to some tennis factory in Florida at an early age (as Richard Williams and many others have done with their darlings), instead training near her family home, which was not uprooted to be nearer to a tennis factory in Florida.

And, for the perverts who started watching Oudin the day she beat tennis’ favorite piece of ass, Maria Sharapova, at the U.S. Open, she’s attractive, and becomes legal as of Sept. 23.

Basically, the story we’re being sold right now is your average, all-American girl who lived a normal life and grew up to become a tennis star. Sounds like all you need to do is throw a racket in your daughter’s hand, write “Believe” on her shoes, and watch the tennis career take off, right?

Wrong. You do see the name of this blog, right?

Here are the reasons why, no matter how great a story Michelle Oudin might be, your child will never be able to match her, even if Oudin were to quite tomorrow and follow former teenage prodigy Andrea Jaeger to the nunnery.

1. You’re too pushy

Oudin’s parents didn’t introduce her to tennis. Her grandmother did, and not until age 7. She didn’t hand her grandkids a tennis racket with the idea they would go pro. You, on the other hand, are already scheduling lessons with Nick Bollietieri. If you’re going to follow the Oudin model, you have to let the kids discover on their own they like tennis, which brings me to…

2. You’re not supportive enough

The Oudin family has boatloads of money and could afford to pave a tennis court in their three-and-a-half-acre backyard and hire a professional coach. You, on the other hand, are still paying off your Taco Bell order from 2003. OK, not that you have to be rich to be supportive of a child in an individual sport — Michael Phelps’ family wasn’t exactly rolling in money. But are you going to put every dollar you have into your child’s possible career? And not end up with the lot of you in therapy? Oh, and are you going to take your kid out and home-school her so she can free up more time for tennis? And are you really going to do all of this because it’s her choice?

3. Your child isn’t driven enough

The lesson of Oudin — and Phelps, for that matter — is if your child has any chance to be a champion, she or he has to be hypercompetitive and obsessed with the sport in question. Oudin’s parents tell tales of their daughter crying when it would rain because she couldn’t play tennis. Then when they got her inside with a coach, he put her through all sorts of grueling drills to see if she was serious — she was. Oudin has a twin who will likely play in college, but by her own admission will not go pro because she’s more interested in medical school. (Where are her priorities?) Oudin herself says her 11-year-old sister has some talent but that she would rather go to the mall. Well, so much for her.

4. You won’t let your spouse sleep with your daughter’s coach

Actually, John Oudin wasn’t terribly happy about this. According to SI.com, he and his wife, Leslie, have a Dec. 7 mediation hearing on their divorce, filed upon his allegation Leslie slept with Oudin’s coach, Brian de Villiers. If you really want to be supportive of your budding tennis star, maybe you should let that stuff go. You don’t want to cause her any distractions.

Written by rkcookjr

September 10, 2009 at 5:45 pm

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