Cutting Through The Competition
March 9, 2009
By Larry Watts
The economy has hit hard times, but as the calendar turned to 2009, "The Butcher" business has been thriving in Champaign-Urbana.
During her first two years at the University of Illinois, Megan Fudge, or "Fudgie" as she is known by her teammates, compiled a 44-26 record (13-7 Big Ten) at No. 1 singles for the women's tennis squad. She led the Illini last year to a final ITA ranking of No. 37 and their first NCAA postseason appearance since 2004.
However, head coach Michelle Dasso elected to make a change this season. She inserted redshirt sophomore Leigh Finnegan into the top of the lineup and moved Fudge to No. 2.
Such a move has been known to bruise the egos of players in a sport known for its pampering ways. But that has not been the case with this Kaarst, Germany native.
"As long as I'm playing, I'm happy," the junior says. "No. 2 seems to be a good spot for me right now."
There are few who can argue. After a 2-4 campaign during the fall, she had been on a 15-0 roll since January. The streak ended last Sunday when she dropped a 7-5, 2-6, 1-0 (10-8) decision to Purdue's Stephanie Wooten.
While she's not facing as many nationally-ranked players now, "The Butcher" says she hasn't exactly been dealing with chopped liver.
"It hasn't been easy, there have been some very good matches," she says. "The matches are going to get a lot harder in the Big Ten season."
The conference campaign kicked off last weekend when the Illini defeated Indiana in the Atkins Tennis Center and then picked up a road win at Purdue Sunday. In the not too distant future, Fudge will run into No. 25 Georgia Rose of Northwestern and No. 73 Rika Tatsuno of Michigan.
"I'm excited about the Big Ten season," she says. "We have high expectations and think we can at least finish third, but we're not conceding anything to Northwestern and Michigan. We've been working really hard to challenge them."
Fudge laughs when asked about her new nickname, which she picked up a couple of weeks ago during a match against Illinois-Chicago.
"It came from a couple of guys on the men's team and their friends," she says. "They kept calling me 'The Butcher' during the match, so afterward I asked them why.
"They said, 'Look at the scoreboard! Look at the scoreboard!' I had won the match 6-0, 6-1. They told me I had butchered the girl and they said my forehand looked like a chopping motion."
Fudge says it could have been worse.
"At least they're not calling me 'The Butcher' because I'm bad and they didn't call me 'Ten Pin' (teammate Annie McCarthy)," she says. "I don't know where they got that one. Maybe she's got some bowling skills I don't know about.
"But it's all in fun. We get a good crowd at our matches and it creates a great atmosphere."
Fudge, the daughter of former professional players, attributes her turnaround from the fall to "better conditioning and a better mental approach."
"I have been doing more sprints and I've been working a lot on staying within myself," she says. "I'm such a perfectionist and I tend to get on myself when I make stupid mistakes. All my friends tell me about how much they hear me talking to myself."
Although she admits to being a feisty player, rarely does she direct any of her dialogue to an opponent.
"It never gets more than a couple of stares; I don't want to cause any problems," she says. "I think my feistiness gives a little character to the game. I think it gets our crowd fired up and I love it when the opposing crowd gets stirred up because the angrier they get, the better I play."
And there's nothing Fudge likes better than long rallies. "I love to play defense and make people work," she says. "I love running down balls. The longer the rally, the more tired I get and the happier I am after a match. I enjoy being tired because I feel like I've done something."
Starting with her socks, Fudge admits to being a walking wardrobe malfunction. If she's ever caught wearing a matching pair of socks, it's an accident.
"I think it started my freshman year because I was too lazy to sort my laundry," she says with a laugh. "Now it's just become one of my many superstitions. Sometimes they might be different colors, different heights or different makes. It drives my mother crazy whenever I go home because I have all these odd socks."
Her superstitions, or "routines" as she likes to call them, move into hyperbole on the day of a match.
"I always wake up 20 minutes before our team meeting and the first thing I do is wake up Annie (McCarthy)," she says. "Then I text message 'It's Game Day' to all my teammates. They make fun of me for that.
"If it's a home match, we all have to go to Flat Top for breakfast. I always order scrambled eggs and fruit. Even if we're on the road, I have to have my scrambled eggs and fruit."
And her preparation for a match isn't complete until she dons her headband. Her color of choice right now is black.
"That's the color that seems to be working for me now, so I'm not going to change it," she says.
Born and raised in Germany, Fudge spent the last two years of high school attending a boarding school in London, where her mother was from, so she could continue her education and play tennis at the same time.
"That was the first time anyone ever kidded me about my last name," she says. "My mother's family still lived there, so I had family close by, and I was only an hour away from home by plane."
But if she wanted to further her education and still play tennis, Fudge knew she had to come to the United States. Her two options were Fresno State and Illinois.
"Academically, Illinois was a lot better for me," says Fudge, who is studying sports management and hopes to remain in the U.S. to coach collegiate tennis. "The weather didn't bother me at all because I was used to it. I really fell in love with the players and the facilities are so much nicer than the ones we have back home."
Fudge has also jumped right into the American sports scene, taking in as many Illinois football, basketball and baseball games as her schedule permits.
"We still love our soccer in Europe, but this has been so much fun, especially when you can share these moments with your teammates," she says. "We all live close to each other and next year we will have six girls living in the same apartment block. It's a very tight-knit group."
And she'll still be leading the way to the Flat Top for breakfast on game day.