West Side Stories

A Tosa resident for almost 20 years, Karen is a mom and freelance writer, addicted to playing tennis. When not on the tennis court, she spends the fall and winter in the stands at Green Bay Packer and Marquette basketball games.

Karen is the author of “Grab a Bite,” a dining out column and the former community columnist for the Wauwatosa NOW newspaper.

Melanie Oudin and How Tennis Saved My Life

Sports, Personal

Seems like the whole world has fallen in love with 17-year old tennis sensation Melanie Oudin. Me too. She’s so gosh-darn cute and has that refreshing “gee whiz” quality that is sorely lacking in most of today’s teenagers. Even my mom, who NEVER watches tennis, mentioned to me her admiration of Oudin. That’s my barometer of whether somebody’s hit the big time – if mom has heard of them.

What’s particularly refreshing about Oudin’s success is that it came from out of nowhere. ESPN and Sports Illustrated do their best to mine the courts and the playing fields of America in search of the “next big thing.” That’s how we heard about Tiger and LeBron. I LOVE that Melanie caught us by surprise. If I were in charge, I wouldn’t show Little League Baseball or High School Basketball on ESPN. Let those kids play for their parents. If they’re good, don’t worry. We’ll hear about them in due time.

What I love about watching Oudin play is her genuine excitement at winning. Sometimes it seems as if select teen athletes have been so groomed and prepped that they act almost bored by winning because they expect it. No doubt their coaches and handlers train them in this mindset. Perhaps Oudin has coaches and handlers too, but somehow, they haven’t reigned in her enthusiasm, which is exactly why she’s become so popular.

I’ve taken particular interest in Oudin’s story because four years ago, I fell head over heels in love with tennis. Back then, I was a stay-at-home mom with a couple of teenagers whose days of participating in sports consisted of making the 8th grade varsity basketball team. I had never taken a tennis lesson in my life. One summer morning, a friend encouraged me to dig out my old wooden racquet and hit a couple of tennis balls.

That day, something awoke in me – a need to actually play a sport. I started taking lessons and doing drills and even joined a team. I met new friends. I got off the couch. I felt more alive than I ever have. What I love about tennis is the constant positive reinforcement, something I rarely get from doing laundry or cooking dinner. (I don’t deserve it for dinner – I’m a bad cook.) There was something about hearing: “Great shot, Karen!” that made me feel better about myself than I had in years. And yes, I hit more than my fair share of bad shots too, but it's fun learning how to not do that so often.

Every day that I’m on the tennis court is a GREAT day. And I’m here to say that if I can discover and play a sport in my mid-40s, anyone can. In fact, every week I see men and women in their 70s, 80s and even 90s enjoying tennis. I firmly believe that tennis saved and enriched my life and will continue to do so for a long time.

So, back to Melanie. As I write this, Oudin’s set to play another teen, Caroline Wozniaki from Denmark, for a seat in the semi-finals of the U.S. Open. Even if she fails in this match, she’s already captured the hearts and minds of Americans everywhere. Let’s hope she continues to be a positive influence for young, and old, athletes alike. That’s right – this is a shout-out to all you fellow middle-agers: Wouldn’t you love to get out and move a little? Would you like to hear something other than: “Mom, I have no clean socks!” Maybe, just maybe, you’ll hear instead: “Wow, Mom. That was a great shot!”


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