REGGIO CALABRIA, Italy --- Melanie Oudin has the bright lights on her again.
Oudin surged from nowhere to reach the U.S. Open quarterfinals in September. This weekend, with the Williams sisters skipping the Fed Cup final against Italy, she commands the stage.
Top-ranked Serena and Venus are skipping the best-of-five series on red clay at the Rocco Polimeni club. That left Oudin and Alexa Glatch the likely singles players for captain Mary Joe Fernandez.
"It's definitely a little bit of pressure without the Williams sisters," Oudin said. "I thought that I might not even be playing, and definitely not No. 1 singles, but it's a good feeling because I like representing our country and I've been on the team twice before. I'm really looking forward to playing and just fighting hard and having a good time again this weekend."
Oudin has struggled since knocking off four established players -- including three-time major champion Maria Sharapova and Beijing Olympic gold medalist Elena Dementieva -- at the Open.
In her first tournament after her Flushing Meadows run, the 18-year-old player from Marietta, Ga., lost in qualifying in Tokyo, then dropped a three-setter to Glatch in her opening match in Beijing.
"Everyone expects me to win everything now after I did good in one tournament, and I'm still improving, I'm still learning about the game of tennis," she said.
"I'm working on a lot of different things in my game. Everyone has ups and downs. I happened to be up at the U.S. Open, and I played really, really well and I'm playing well again. I was not playing as well right after, and I got sick a little bit, but I'm ready again and I'm going to be ready for next year, and I'm ready for the Fed Cup this weekend."
Oudin won a key singles match in the opening round of this year's Fed Cup against Argentina.
For her efforts, Oudin collected the inaugural Fed Cup Heart award from ITF president Francesco Ricci Bitti on Thursday. She dedicated the $5,000 check to Egleston Children's Hospital in Atlanta.