By Curt Janka
CARLSBAD, California â€“ The Tuesday night session of the Mercury Insurance Open produced a number of surprises for the fans and players. The first coming before a ball was struck. Earlier in the day, Sorana Cirstea was forced to withdraw from her scheduled match with Sloane Stephens with a right abductor strain, granting lucky loser Melanie Oudin the chance to play in the main draw. That meant fans would get to see three Americans play under the lights.
Coco Vandeweghe and Chanelle Scheepers took the court first. Scheepers entered the match with one previous win over her opponent, but Vandeweghe came out swinging, holding at love. Early in the rallies it was clear that Vandeweghe would be hitting the bigger balls, but Scheepers seemed comfortable redirecting the power. Scheepers won the first set easily, 6-2, while a frustrated Vandeweghe continued to go for winners unsuccessfully.
The second set was much more competitive as the players stayed on serve until 5-5. They then traded breaks and headed into a tie-breaker. Vandewegheâ€™s all-or-nothing approach got the best of her in the end as Scheepers won the breaker 7-4.
Vandeweghe seems to consistently go for too much when under pressure. She can hit with great topspin and Scheepers struggled with the few off pace balls Vandeweghe hit. She has the strokes, the mentality seems to be lagging behind her talent.
The crowd was definitely buzzing about the all-American match up between Stephens and Oudin. While carrying a 2-0 record against Oudin into the match, Stephens was coming off a first round exit last week at Stanford.
Stephens started the match on fire, winning the first 4 games before letting her opponent on the board. Both players were hitting very aggressively, but Stephensâ€™ speed seemed to give her an extra edge as she slapped multiple on-the-run winners. She closed the set out at 6-1 without blinking. Stephens even got the early break in the second set, but just when she was looking unstoppable, double faults crept into her service game and she was broken. Stephens definitely had her chances in the second set going up 4-2 and even held two match points in the tie-breaker. But Oudin found her rhythm and began mixing up the pace of her shots. Once Oudin came back to with the second set breaker 8-6, all the fight seemed to leave Stephens. Oudin quickly won the third set 6-0 to surprise the crowd with a come-from-behind victory.
Asked how she turned the match around, Oudin said â€œMy plan going into the match was trying to stay with her the whole time. The first set didnâ€™t work that well. I felt like I was controlling a lot of the pointsâ€”I was just missing.â€ She said her â€œforehand started workingâ€ after being down 4-2 in the second set and then everything seemed to fall into place. In the end she said â€œI played one of the best sets Iâ€™ve played in a while.â€
It seems winning those eight matches in Birmingham to claim her maiden title helped her find her mojo again. She said, â€œThe biggest thing is confidence. When I walk on the court I really do think I can win these matches now. Iâ€™m finally finding my game again. I think I can be even better than when I was 30 in the world.â€
For now she has her sights set on peaking at the U.S. Open where she hopes to be awarded a wild card entry. A strong run here this week will certainly help her cause.