Oudin's star still on the rise

Melanie Oudin returns a shot against Jill Craybas during their match at the Family Circle on Tuesday night.

Brad Nettles

The top-ranked American woman in the world not named Williams? Believe it or not, it's 18-year-old Melanie Oudin.

Oudin, the rising tennis star from Marietta, Ga., would rather not think about keeping company with the likes of top-ranked Serena and No. 4 Venus.

But on the evidence of Tuesday night's 6-3, 6-1 dismissal of American veteran Jill Craybas at the Family Circle Cup, she will have to get used to it.

"I don't like to think of myself as the, like, next hot American or whatever coming up," Oudin said after a 69-minute workout before 6,372 fans on Stadium Court. "That adds a lot of pressure."

Pressure comes with success, and Oudin's breakthrough season last year -- she reached the fourth round at Wimbledon and the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open, capturing the hearts of tennis fans in the process -- guaranteed that her 2010 season would be filled with the first, if not the second.

A qualifier at the Family Circle Cup last year, Oudin is seeded 13th this year and was the choice for the first featured night match of the week. She broke into the top 40 of the world rankings just this week, clocking in at a career-best No. 36.

Oudin entered this week with an 8-6 singles record and some $80,000 in earnings so far this year, along with increased expectations.

"It's definitely a little bit different," Oudin said. "I'm seeded here, but I'm not a high seed. But yeah, I just go into the tournament and each match the same way. I don't think about, I'm supposed to win this match. I just go in thinking, all right, I'm going to do the best I can and play the best I can, and that's just going to happen."

Oudin's first-round match here was complicated by her relationship with the 35-year-old Craybas, the oldest player in the draw and a mentor of sorts to the teenager.

"Jill has so much experience, so there's a lot of things I can take from her, and advice she has," Oudin said. "But it's always tough playing someone (like that). I've been on Fed Cup with her and I've known her for a while now. She was someone I looked up to as a younger American coming up. So yeah, it's always tough, but she's a great player."

Craybas defeated Oudin in their last meeting, taking a 6-2, 6-2 win on hard courts in Tokyo last year. But the powerful groundstrokes of the 5-6, 130-pound Oudin proved too much for Craybas on Tuesday.

Craybas' best chance came in the eighth game of the first set, when she held three break points to even the match at 4-4. Oudin fought off the first two with a two-fisted backhand down the line and a forehand winner, and the third when Craybas missed wide to end a long rally. Oudin held serve when her crosscourt forehand clipped the line for 5-3, served out the set and cruised through the second set at 6-1.

Afterward, Oudin was pleased that she came up big on those break points.

"Lately, I've been up a little and then letting my opponent get back in the match," she said. "So being able to close out that game, and then play a really good second set, really helped me a lot."