It wasn't that long ago when she was in the stands watching as the world's greatest tennis stars played. Now, Melanie Oudin is playing on the same stage. Oudin, at 19, rose in popularity last year after being the youngest American Grand Slam quarterfinalist since Serena Williams did it at the Open in 1999. With the word 'Believe' inscribed on her shoes, Oudin fought from behind and defeated four top-ranked Russians to make it to the quarterfinals.
Oudin returned for her second year along with some of the top-ranked women's players in the world to compete in the Family Circle Cup on Daniel Island.
Over 90,000 tennis fans descended upon the island this past week as the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour arrived in Charleston.
The cup first started in 1973 and was played at Hilton Head before moving to Charleston in 2001 and the newly built Family Circle Cup Magazine Stadium. The partnership of Family Circle Magazine and the cities of Charleston and Daniel Island has allowed local fans the opportunity to watch the biggest names in women's tennis compete.
Fans of all ages come to watch the 9-day event which includes not only tennis matches but clothing shops, local food vendors and interactive fan zones. This year, the tournament featured a "Game, Set, Rock!" exhibition match featuring John McEnroe, Jim Courier, Monica Seles and Anna Kournikova.
I said it last year and I will say it again... I love tennis. I did not like it as much growing up but I developed an interest in the game while photographing junior's tennis. One part of junior's tennis I love is the chance to see up and coming players like Oudin grow, mature and eventually transform themselves into professional athletes.
Many of the players I have shot in the last couple of years have become professional and it is exciting to see them play at this level.
As a matter of a fact, I have never watched more of the US Open than this past year. It's kind of like following a local football player as they go to college and hopefully make it to the NFL. Though I don't make it a practice to build personal relationships with those I cover, it is still fun to see them succeed.
Last year, I got to cover the Family Circle Cup for the first time and was so enthralled by the like of Venus Williams and other stars. This year, I saw much more... the fans who come out to these matches for example.
The Family Circle Cup had record-breaking attendance this year helped out by the "Game, Set, Rock" exhibition. Fans flocked to the stadium to see their favorites, though some of the bigger names like Serena Williams and Maria Sherapova dropped out.
It was interesting to see how fans reacted to action on the court. Top seeded Caroline Wozniacki, of Denmark, and Jelena Jankovic, of Serbia, were favorites but did not always have the support of the crowd. The underdogs were encouraged and cheered for in most instances.
The underdog is not the only reason the fans cheered. During match play on Wednesday afternoon, the sounds of the Blue Angels could be heard in the distance. Twice, in between points, the five jets peeked just over the stands during practice runs and the crowd erupted in applause. I am sure the reaction might have been different had they appeared during play.
The audience did find reason to cheer when Americans Melanie Oudin and Christina McHale took the court. For good reason since they represent the next generation of US tennis stars.
On the other side of the spectrum, players like Patty Schnyder, of Switzerland, have been playing at the Family Circle Cup much longer. Schnyder first played in the tournament 14 years ago and has endeared herself to the fans. That is one heck of a run in any professional sport!
When all was said and done, the tournament comes down to one player. Though Jelena Jankovic and Caroline Wozniacki were among the top seeds, they did not make it to the finals.
Though some of the biggest names in the sport did not show, the Family Circle Cup is still the best show in town. I might be biased though, I have been looking forward to watching young stars like Melanie Oudin and Christina McHale play in person for awhile now.
It is so much better than watching them on television.
Paul Zoeller is a freelance photographer new to the area. Do you have an idea for a new blog or a question about a current blog? If you do contact Zoeller at firstname.lastname@example.org.