- Greg Garber, Writer, Reporter
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NEW YORK -- She had never played a Sony Ericsson WTA Tour-level match until earlier this week -- or a top-100 player until earlier this month in a Vancouver, British Columbia, ITF event.
How, then, to explain what Beatrice Capra has done in the first week of this white-hot U.S. Open? All the 18-year-old amateur, who currently resides in Delray Beach, Fla., has done is consistently amaze.
She's taking a year off from school to see how this tennis thing works out. Her backup plan? Attend Duke and play tennis for the Blue Devils. That might not be necessary.
Capra surprised veteran Karolina Sprem in the first round, but Thursday, she moved the meter somewhere past incredulity, taking down No. 18 seed Aravane Rezai 7-5, 2-6, 6-3. Although there were times when the 5-foot-9, 137-pound athlete looked nervous on the swirling Grandstand Court, she played a fearless third set and now finds herself in the third round.
"Winning today, I'd have to say that was probably one of the best moments of my life," Capra said afterward. "This whole experience has been unreal, and I'm so happy. I was able to go to the player party and be a part of this. I'm really excited."
On Wednesday, 18-year-old American Ryan Harrison won his first career Grand Slam singles match, but he has been a force on the horizon for some time and is seen as a future top-10 player. Where did Capra come from -- besides Ellicott City, Md.?
She is ranked No. 371 in the world and is the lowest-ranked player to reach the third round at the U.S. Open since No. 1,102-ranked Hungarian-born Bea Bielik (representing the United States) did it eight years ago. Bielik beat Tamarine Tanasugarn, the No. 27-ranked player, before falling to an ascendant Justine Henin.
That marquee history could repeat itself Saturday, when Capra likely will face Maria Sharapova on a show court at the National Tennis Center.
That's a long way from Plantation, Fla., where she began her season in an International Tennis Foundation event. She's built her modest game in places like Grapevine, Texas, and Osprey, Fla., and Lexington, Ky. Capra has an efficient serve (three aces) and steady groundstrokes but no obvious dangerous weapons. Against Rezai, her backhand, particularly cross court, was her best shot. Basically, she kept the ball in play and waited for Rezai to make the inevitable mistake; the Frenchwoman made 49 unforced errors.
Capra won the USTA's eight-woman playoff two weeks ago in Boca Raton, Fla., to earn a wild card into this main draw.
"I kind of went in there thinking, 'Well, it will be another match before the Junior U.S. Open, and it will just be no pressure,'" Capra said. "'I've already lost my chance to get a wild card, so this is just a bonus.' I went in there and I just played so freely. Each match that I won, it gave me more confidence."
She'll need that kind of belief if she plays Sharapova.
"I think it will be an amazing experience," Capra said. "I know she's just such a tough competitor. When I was younger, I used to always look up to her, and so I think it will be a really good match for me to see where I am compared to that kind of level.
"She just always went for her shots, and you can never tell any of her emotions. That really inspired me. One of my great assets is I'm really -- I like to think that I'm mentally tough, and I'll always stay in the match until the end."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
Beatrice Capra took a year off from school to see how this tennis thing would work out. So far, all roses for the 18-year-old.