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May 9, 2012

Brian Baker

Melanie Oudin

TIM CURRY:テつ Thanks, everyone, for joining us today.テつ We have Melanie Oudin here.テつ She's been training on clay at the Player Development Training Center here at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, and is headed to France in a few hours.テつ Brian Baker is joining us from Tampa, Florida, where he arrived two days ago to do some clay court training before leaving for France tomorrow.
They won the USTA's wild cards to the French Open this year based on the reciprocal agreement we have annually with the French Tennis Federation.テつ This is the first year Player Development awarded the wild cards based on results at the USTA Pro Circuit events, which made it available to every American competing in those events and also allowed the players to earn ATP and WTA ranking points rather than having to play a separate event where there were no ranking points as we have with playoffs in the past.
We'll open up the call for questions for both Melanie and Brian.

Q.テつ Melanie, why don't you talk a little bit about going from where your last year to maybe the last few weeks, say since Charleston, your game has picked up a lot.
MELANIE OUDIN:テつ I think last year definitely was a rough year for me.テつ I think everybody knows that.テつ My results definitely weren't as positive as they could have been.
But I thought the past couple months, I mean, ever since I really started training in New York with the USTA up here, starting the tournaments, the first one was Osprey, the second one was Charlottesville, I've been playing much better at the 350s to get the French wild card.
It was definitely a good jump for me.テつ It was definitely a good sign, I think.テつ It's going to be a great opportunity for me to play in the French Open.

Q.テつ Melanie, I know you were on a pretty big losing streak there.テつ When you actually won three matches to qualify, what were you telling yourself mentally that you can actually get what you've been doing in practice into a match and close one out?
MELANIE OUDIN:テつ I think after like a losing streak, the first match that you win is definitely the toughest, getting through that.テつ After I won that first match, I won pretty handily the next one.テつ I think that was the toughest step for me.
Since then, I've been much more confident.テつ I mean, every match I've won I've become a little bit more confident.テつ I think that's the biggest thing.テつ In Charlottesville, I was really confident in all my matches and I think that's how I ended up winning the tournament there.

Q.テつ When you went to work with the USTA in New York, what were the coaches emphasizing?テつ What did you get done there to get yourself back on track?
MELANIE OUDIN:テつ You work extremely hard here, four hours of tennis, about two and a half hours of fitness a day.テつ So it's definitely a lot of hard work.
But also I think Jay and Jorge, my coaches now, they really have gotten through to me a little bit better, I guess.テつ They kind of like know what to say.テつ I think the biggest thing was me believing in myself again and getting confidence again.テつ They definitely have helped with that a lot.

Q.テつ So moving forward, outside of everyone's expectations which I'm sure you're ignoring, what would you like to see yourself do the rest of the year?
MELANIE OUDIN:テつ I mean, my goal right now is really to keep up what I've been doing.テつ What I've been doing so far since coming here has been working for me.テつ I think I'm improving a little bit every day, every week, every tournament.テつ So hopefully just to keep that up, hopefully get my ranking up every tournament.

Q.テつ You played all the slams before.テつ But given where you were, where you are today, must be nice to know you actually managed to qualify for a major?
MELANIE OUDIN:テつ Yeah, I mean, I think it's nice that I earned my wild card into the tournament.テつ I mean, I think that definitely means a lot more than someone just like giving it to you.
It definitely means a lot.テつ I'm definitely really excited, just really happy to have the opportunity to play there again.テつ I mean, it's the main draw of a slam.テつ So winning one round there would really help my ranking a lot.

Q.テつ Brian, getting the wild card, talk to me a little bit about what you want to see from yourself the next couple months.
BRIAN BAKER:テつ Yeah, I mean, I just want to kind of keep the momentum going.テつ I've been playing well the last couple months.テつ I'm still not even a year back of playing full‑time tennis.テつ I started last July.テつ I feel like I'm just now kind of hitting my stride.
I don't have any specific expectations this summer that I have to get to a certain round or get this many points.テつ But I'd love to keep on playing great tennis.テつ I think I'll be over there four or five weeks.テつ Obviously the French will be the biggest one.
Hopefully out of the five weeks I'm over there, I can continue playing well and try to jump up in the rankings.

Q.テつ Have you decided whether you're going to play Nice quallies?
BRIAN BAKER:テつ I am.テつ I'm actually leaving a week from tomorrow, Wednesday the 16th, to go over to Nice.テつ I think the quallies start the 19th.テつ Whenever that tournament finishes up, I'll head to Paris.

Q.テつ Talk about when you made it to the final in the juniors.
BRIAN BAKER:テつ Yeah, it was a great tournament.テつ For some reason I've always had success on clay throughout my career.テつ That tournament is a pretty special tournament.テつ I think I beat Baghdatis in the quarters, Tsonga in the semis and then lost a tough three‑setter to Wawrinka in the final.
I think it's nice to go back to a place where you have good memories and played well before, even though I guess it's been eight or nine years since that happened.テつ I don't know how much stock you can put into that, but it doesn't hurt to have some good memories.

Q.テつ Can you specifically say why you think clay suits your game?
BRIAN BAKER:テつ You know, there's not probably one reason that it fits my game.テつ I've embraced it.テつ Like, I don't have a negative attitude towards clay, thinking I have no chance when I go out there.
Definitely confident in my ability.テつ I have an all‑court game, have some variety.テつ I think that helps when the points are generally longer, you have to construct the points a little bit more as opposed to one or two shots on a hard court.テつ That's probably the main reason.テつ I can use some touch and mix in some spin as well.

Q.テつ Melanie, what do you think about the system of deciding the wild card?テつ I know you've been involved with some of the other ones, even the Australian.テつ What are the pros and cons of having the wild card decided this way?
MELANIE OUDIN:テつ Well, I think the biggest pro about it was the fact that any American that was playing those tournaments had a chance to get it.テつ In past times they have a playoff with only eight players, eight men or eight women.テつ This time, you look at the draws, at least the women, second round in one of the tournament there were 14 Americans in the second round.テつ It really gave every single American in those tournaments a chance to win it.テつ I think everyone really definitely liked that.
I think it was a bit of luck depending on what kind of draw you got in the tournaments, or if two people that had done well in the first two tournaments drew each other in the third tournament, whoever won that was probably going to get the most points.
But even if I didn't win the wild card, I do think it was a good system.テつ I wonder if they're going to try it again.

Q.テつ Brian, did you know about this before you signed up for those two challengers?
BRIAN BAKER:テつ Yeah, I did.テつ I received an email, which I'm sure all the other U.S. players did, saying the person who got the most cumulative points between the two would get the wild card.テつ It wasn't something I put up on the bulletin and this is what I'm going to do, but it was nice to know that everybody that played it had a shot, every American that played it had a shot to get it.
I knew I had done well on clay in the past.テつ It wasn't something I was stressing out about before the two tournaments.テつ By the time I won a couple rounds, I knew I was in the thick of things, could kind of control my own destiny going forward.

Q.テつ What about having to qualify?テつ Was that a good thing in your mind for those tournaments or was that something that added risk to your chances?
BRIAN BAKER:テつ I mean, probably going into it I would have said it would have been a negative thing just because it put extra matches on your body.テつ Maybe it will help you play better getting into the first or second round of the main draw, but normally it will fatigue you a little bit for the later rounds.
I was fortunate enough in Savannah to get through quallies fairly easily.テつ I didn't have any matches.テつ I felt like it helped my game, you know, getting used to those conditions there, match‑like conditions, before anybody else in the main draw could.テつ It didn't affect me later on in the tournament because I still felt fresh.

Q.テつ Do you think you would have been invited to a wild card tournament if they hadn't have done it in this fashion?
BRIAN BAKER:テつ You know, I don't know.テつ I really don't know.テつ Maybe not just because I'm still coming back.テつ I'm just now getting my ranking back to a respectable level.テつ So honestly I don't know.

Q.テつ Then I assume you approve of this process compared to the other one?
BRIAN BAKER:テつ Well, yeah.テつ I mean, obviously if you're the one you know you're going to get picked, it's better chances for you if you know there's only eight people vying for it.テつ I think this is a fair way to do it.
Like Melanie said, you have situations where somebody can get a better draw than another.テつ If you play another American, I mean, I don't think you can complain about that.テつ But maybe if you're playing another tough foreigner in a first round instead of a semi‑or a final, if you're going to win the wild card, you're going to have to at least do well at a couple of the tournaments or win one.テつ Doesn't really matter when you play a great player.テつ You have to beat everybody.テつ I think this was a fair way to do it.テつ Obviously I liked the way things turned out.

Q.テつ Melanie, obviously you worked with Brian for 10 years or so.テつ How hard was it or scary to make a coaching change?テつ How did you finally decide it was time to do something different?
MELANIE OUDIN:テつ Well, after the year I had last year, I decided that probably it would be smart to make a change.テつ I really didn't know what I was going to do exactly.テつ But I think I needed to make some kind of change.
It was definitely a little bit scary because Brian is the only coach I've ever really known.テつ I'd been with him since I was nine years old.テつ It definitely was a big change.テつ Wasn't really sure what to expect.
Then starting with the USTA in Boca, it was really nice.テつ I think it was a good change for me.テつ It was definitely a fresh start.テつ I felt a lot better about everything.テつ Then ended up coming to New York and training here.テつ I really feel like this is definitely the right place for me because I didn't really have anything to compare Boca to.
It's good.テつ I think I definitely found the place I should be training at.

Q.テつ How are you finding New York in comparison to Atlanta?
MELANIE OUDIN:テつ Well, I mean, I wouldn't really consider myself a NewYork City kind of person because I'm from Atlanta, I'm from the South.テつ It's a lot different here.テつ People are a lot different also.
But I'm definitely getting used to it.テつ I don't have a lot of time to do much because we're training all the time.テつ I'm actually staying in Westchester, so not too close to the city.

Q.テつ Last year you said it was really rough.テつ How did you keep your spirits up, keep plugging away when things weren't going well?テつ How did you keep yourself positive?
MELANIE OUDIN:テつ Well, I mean, people have actually asked me that a lot lately.
I never really like gave up.テつ I never really wanted to quit tennis or anything like that.テつ I still love playing tennis, win or lose.テつ I knew that at some point I was going to come out of my slump.テつ It was just a matter of time.テつ You just never know when it's going to click.テつ Until recently finally it did.
Since then, I mean, I feel like winning the first match after a while is definitely the biggest hump.テつ After you get over that, I feel it's definitely a lot easier and things come easier.テつ I definitely started playing better and better each match, started improving and having more confidence along the way.
After winning that tournament in Charlottesville, I feel like I'm even more confident now.テつ I feel like I have to keep growing the confidence, keep working as hard as I can and keep improving.

Q.テつ Are you working on any stroke in particular or is it more the confidence factor, the all‑court factor?
MELANIE OUDIN:テつ It's more of the confidence and the belief again, sometimes knowing when to hit the right shot.テつ They say there's nothing wrong with my stroke, it's just really, like, believing in myself again, really going for it, not putting any pressure on myself.

Q.テつ Brian, this will be your first major Grand Slam since 2005.テつ How satisfying does that make your comeback?テつ What sort of expectations do you have?テつ Are you nervous, excited about playing a Grand Slam for the first time in almost seven years?
BRIAN BAKER:テつ Yeah, no, I mean, I'm really excited for the opportunity.テつ I mean, one of the main reasons for coming back was to come back and try to compete to get in the main draw of Grand Slams.テつ I mean, Grand Slams are kind of like the pinnacle of tennis.テつ That's the biggest tournaments each year.テつ Anytime you can play one, it's a great accomplishment.テつ I'm really looking forward to it.
Of course, I'll probably be a little bit nervous going out there.テつ But overall, I'm not putting too much pressure on myself.テつ I just want to go out there and give myself the best chance to succeed.テつ Doing that, you just have to go out and prepare the same way you do for any other tournament.

Q.テつ How is your elbow and hip?テつ Are you feeling good again?
BRIAN BAKER:テつ Yeah, I mean, I'm still in a process of trying to get as fit as I can.テつ I'm still able to put in more time each week off the court than I have been able to.
The body right now, it's feeling better than it has in a long time.テつ Last year, coming back, I couldn't play a full schedule.テつ After I played like eight matches in a week tournaments, because I had to get through qualifying, I had to take a couple weeks off and recover.テつ Whereas this year, I've been able to play a normal schedule.
I'm hopeful I'll be able to do the same thing the rest of the year and not worry too much about my body.

Q.テつ Has the comeback been what you expected since you last played?テつ Has it been better?テつ Has what you achieved exceeded your own expectations?
BRIAN BAKER:テつ I've always had confidence in my ability if I was able to stay healthy.テつ The tour definitely has changed.テつ Coming back, having to play futures after not having to play them since I was 18, 19 years old.テつ Different scenario when you're one of the oldest guys playing instead of one of the youngest.
Quickly getting out of futures, getting into challengers, I still have some buddies I used to train with and turned pro with.テつ It's definitely been a lot more fun doing that.テつ Hopefully I can keep pushing through and hopefully start playing some more ATPs.

Q.テつ The motivation to come back last year, was it, Why not give it a try?
BRIAN BAKER:テつ Right.テつ I felt like I had some unfinished business.テつ It's not like I stopped tennis because I just got tired of it.テつ It was taken away because my body wouldn't hold up.テつ I always wanted to come back, it was just whether I could or not.
When I started feeling good enough to give it a go, I wanted for sure to do that.テつ I didn't want to be 35 and have to look back and be like, I wish I had given it one other shot, if for anything else, just for peace of mind.

Q.テつ How beneficial do you think the Pro Circuit has been for your comebacks?
BRIAN BAKER:テつ Yeah, I mean, even when I was playing before, I played mostly in the States.テつ It's nice to have so many tournaments that are available to play so you don't have to travel as much.
I think it's a great place to improve your game, kind of see what you need to do to take it to the next level.テつ I mean, I had a lot of success on the Pro Circuit.テつ I'm very grateful that I've had a chance to play in the States.テつ A lot of countries don't have those opportunities.
MELANIE OUDIN:テつ Yeah, I mean, I agree with what Brian said.テつ I think it definitely helps a lot.テつ I think it really shows you if you're ready for the bigger tournaments.テつ I mean, if you're able to do really well in the 50s and 75s, can win them or whatever, then you're ready for like the next step.
But definitely I think that's where to start.テつ Especially for me, I feel like playing these challengers is exactly where I need to be right now to get hopefully a lot of matches and to get my confidence back and everything.テつ Right now I'm really, really happy they have the Pro Circuit tournaments.

Q.テつ Melanie, in year past the Americans have struggled a bit on clay, specifically last year.テつ How do you personally approach the French as well as the Americans as a whole?テつ How do you see them being able to garner more success this year?
MELANIE OUDIN:テつ Actually, I'm really excited about playing.テつ I actually really like playing on the red clay.テつ It's just a little bit hard for me to move on it sometimes just because I haven't played on it that much.
But I actually train on clay here in New York, indoor clay.テつ At least I've been getting some practice on it.テつ But, yeah, I'm definitely looking forward to it.
I think the Americans are going to surprise everybody this year, hopefully do really, really well at the French Open.テつ I think all the Americans want to prove everybody else wrong, that we can play on red clay.テつ Fed Cup, Davis Cup, we've had great wins on the red clay this year.テつ I really think it's going to be a good year for the Americans at the French.

Q.テつ Brian, could you answer the same question.
BRIAN BAKER:テつ Yeah, I mean, I definitely have enjoyed playing on clay throughout my career.テつ I definitely have embraced it and I'm looking forward to going over there and trying to have good results.
With the other Americans, we didn't grow up on this stuff, so it is a little bit of a disadvantage going over there.テつ If you really want to improve on the clay, it starts at a younger age.テつ The 14‑ and 15‑year‑olds start to get more practice on it.テつ As we saw in Davis Cup in France, John Isner had a couple great wins on clay.テつ There are several other Americans capable of doing well on clay.テつ I think it depends on the day and who they play.
But I think there's definitely a couple Americans out there that can go deep in the tournament, for sure.
TIM CURRY:テつ Thanks, everyone, for joining us for the call.テつ Thanks, Melanie, for taking some time before heading to the airport, and, Brian, taking time from your training.

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