After Sloane Stephens upset Serena Williams at the 2013 Australian Open, many anointed Stephens the "next big thing."
Not only had she dispatched one of the greatest tennis players of all times, but she was also the highest-ranked teenager and the No. 2-ranked American on the WTA tour. Stephens was just 19 at the time.
Since then, she has been in slump, getting bounced in the first round of tournaments and losing to lower-ranked players. On April 2, she won just two games in a 2-6, 0-6 loss to fellow American Bethanie Mattek-Sands at the Family Circle Cup in Charleston, S.C.
Suddenly the "next big thing" is being compared to Melanie Oudin.
Remember Oudin? At age 17, she captured the hearts and hopes of American tennis fans when she reached the quarterfinals of the 2009 U.S. Open. An instant smash, Oudin quickly signed lucrative endorsement deals and was called America's sweetheart.
Then, almost as quickly as she grabbed the spotlight, Oudin stumbled into near obscurity. Instead of America's sweetheart, the phrase mentioned before her name was, "Whatever happened to?"
These days Oudin's name is used to describe one-hit wonders. Another Oudin is what fans say about those who fall as rapidly as they rose. She has become the poster child for the over-hyped in the same way Milli Vanilli became synonymous with lip-syncing scam artist.
Now Stephens is being tagged with the dreaded Oudin label.
Yes, Stephens has struggled, but she climbed to the Top 20 and has remained there for months. Oudin's highest ranking was 31, back in 2010. She fell out of the Top 100 in 2011 and is currently ranked 86. Worse, she even loses in the first round on the ITF tour.
Stephens, a year younger, joined the tour a year after Oudin, but has nearly matched her in career prize money.
Still, there are parallels.
In Sports Illustrated's tennis blog, Beyond The Baseline, Oudin sympathized with Stephens after her first-round loss at the Family Circle:
I just told her I know exactly like how she feels. I guess kind of the same thing kind of happened for us, and she told me, ‘Yeah, I’m so glad that my Slam didn’t happen in the States because it would have been like so crazy.’ She was glad it happened in Australia.
Could Stephens slip to Oudin status? A year from now, will we be asking, "Whatever happened to Sloane Stephens?"
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