Really cool write up by Peter Bodo on Melanie Oudin's awesome, yet overlooked, win on Sunday:
The funny thing about "pressure" is that it's something felt equally by all players. The degree of pressure that a David Nalbandian faces upon meeting a Fernando Verdasco, or Nikolay Davydenko encounters when he squares off against James Blake, is no different in intensity or substance than what Oudin must have felt before playing Jozami. You don't feel less or more pressure depending on your status, unless it's notably higher or lower than that of your opponent, or some extraneous factor comes into play. And let's face it, one of the reasons top players are ranked where they are is because of their superior ability to handle pressure - not because there is any more or less of it. Pressure is all about the conditions, and the degree of pressure is created by a potentially volatile mixture of temperament, the match-up, and whatever vibe is in play - in this case, the whole cluster of issues that arise from an international, team competition.
And on that playing field, it's pretty easy to forget that when it comes to any competitive athlete, there's a point where it doesn't matter who is - or isn't - watching. It isn't about the hype, and it isn't about the press. It isn't about the endorsements, and it's not about size of the trophy. It's about you, the team, (vaguely) the nation you represent and, in a small way, about the record books. You go into the books as someone who pulled your team and nation through a tough but winnable tie, and it's. . . sweet. Oh, so sweet! And at some level that we fans and pundits easily ignore because we're so focused on Roger and Wimbledon, Serena and the Masters Series, Rafa and the Davis Cup final, this matters in a way we can understand, but rarely sit back and appreciate.
But this, in a nutshell, is also why people like Melanie Oudin (and Betina Jozami, for surely there will come a time when the shoe is on the other foot) continue to play this game, despite triple-digit rankings, and it's the moments like these when the differences between them and Serena and Ana and Maria are, well, irrelevant. The truth of the matter is that a Wimbledon final is played a few thousand times each year on the tour, on clay, indoors or out, by individuals destined never to decorate the cover of Tennis magazine. Every once in a while, conditions congeal to create a special moment of importance - a break from but also a payoff for all those hours of frustration, tedium, matches whose significance, win or lose, is pretty hard for anyone - including the person experiencing it - to fathom.
But there's also this: Players exist to be found by moments like the one that located Oudin on Sunday, and such moments will enable them to look back on their careers one day and allow them to feel satisfied, to say something like: Yeah, it was tough, I always felt the blow of a setback like a slap in the face, and I know the sting of defeat. But it was worth every hour and ounce of effort I put into it.