- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 29, 2012

NEW YORK (AP) - Mallory Burdette opened the summer plotting how she would take pre-med courses to pursue her dream of studying psychiatry.

A few unanticipated wins on the tennis court later, the 21-year-old American is rethinking her plans for her senior year at Stanford.

At her first Grand Slam tournament, Burdette is into the third round. Her next opponent? Maria Sharapova.

“To end up here at the U.S. Open was a huge surprise,” Burdette said after beating Lucie Hradecka 6-2, 6-4 in the second round Wednesday. “I never expected that at the beginning of the summer.”

Burdette figured she lost her only chance to qualify for the Open when she squandered a lead in the NCAA singles final in May _ the college champion gets an automatic bid. She was aware when she entered USTA Pro Circuit events that she could receive a wild card if she earned enough points. But that wasn’t why she signed up.

The 252nd-ranked Burdette was ambivalent about playing professionally after finishing her last college season, and these tournaments were a way to experience the life of a pro athlete. She wasn’t sure how she would cope with the travel; she wasn’t sure how her body would hold up.

Turns out, she enjoyed the grind just fine. Oh, and as a bonus: She clinched that wild card into the Open.

“That wasn’t even on my radar,” she said. “So it’s been a crazy ride.”

Burdette easily could have faced a top-ranked player in the first round, but she got a favorable draw. She beat 308th-ranked Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland, who got in on a protected ranking, 6-4, 6-3 in her opener.

Meanwhile, the 69th-ranked Hradecka, a Czech doubles specialist, upset 27th-seeded Anabel Medina Garrigues. Hradecka has never reached the third round at a Grand Slam event.

The caliber of Burdette’s opponent now changes dramatically. Her meeting with the third-seeded Sharapova, winner of the career Grand Slam, will most likely be in Arthur Ashe Stadium. Burdette’s matches so far have been on Courts 6 and 11.

Sharapova, who defeated Lourdes Dominguez-Lino 6-0, 6-1, said she expects her next match to be one of those rare occasions where she isn’t the fan favorite.

“Obviously, she’s going to get a lot of home support, which is absolutely normal,” Sharapova said. “I’ve lived in this country since I was 7 years old. I consider this to be my home. But I understand on the other side if the crowd does cheer for her as she’s coming in as the underdog.”

Burdette has been in Ashe before _ during the National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships at Flushing Meadows, players get a night tour.

“I have only walked out on Ashe with nobody in the stadium,” Burdette said.

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