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By Erik Gudris
Photo Credit: Reuters
Melanie Oudin hits a forehand in Memphis(May 10, 2012) For Americans Brian Baker and Melanie Oudin, their trips to this year's French Open will feel like a sweet reward after both spent some time in what can only be called the "tennis wilderness".

Both players earned coveted USTA wildcards into the main draw of Roland Garros through a new format instituted by the USTA that rewarded the man and woman who earned the best combined results based on their performances at several Challenger events held last month. Oudin earned her wildcard after winning the title in Charlottesville and reaching the second round of two other events while Baker got his after winning the Savannah title and reaching the second round in Sarasota.

Oudin, 20, first burst into national prominence during her quarterfinal run at the 2009 U.S. Open that helped her reach a career high of No. 31 on the WTA before a dismal 2011 season saw her plummet almost out of the top 300. Oudin parted ways with her long-term coach and relocated to New York to train at the USTA National Tennis Center, a move that she credits will helping turn her career around.

"You work extremely hard here, four hours of tennis, about two and a half hours of fitness a day," said Oudin "So it's definitely a lot of hard work. But also I think Jay Gooding and Jorge Torero, my coaches now, they really have gotten through to me a little bit better. They know what to say. I think the biggest thing was I believing in myself again and getting confidence again. They definitely have helped with that a lot."

Baker, 27, had a stellar junior career including defeating the likes of
Marcos Baghdatis and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
en route to reaching the 2003 French Open junior finals. But after turning pro, a series of hip and elbow injuries starting in 2005, along with subsequent surgeries, almost forced him out of the game for good. Baker only started playing tennis again competitively full-time last summer after he felt healthy enough to play.

For Baker, unfinished business is what motivated him to keep going.

"It's not like I stopped tennis because I just got tired of it," said Baker who plans to play qualifying in Nice before heading over to Paris. "It was taken away because my body wouldn't hold up. 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. 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."

Oudin, though in a different circumstance from Baker, remained positive even after many had written her off during her very public losing streak last year.

"I never really gave up. I never really wanted to quit tennis or anything like that," said the Marietta, Georgia native. "I still love-playing tennis, win or lose. I knew that at some point I was going to come out of my slump. It was just a matter of time. You just never know when it's going to click. Until recently, finally it did."

The draw for Roland Garros will be announced on May 25th.

 

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