US prodigy flips script on Sharapova
Maria Sharapova is accustomed to being the crowd's darling at Arthur Ashe Stadium, but she finds herself pitted against a US prodigy likely to enjoy strong support in the third round of the US Open.
The 25-year-old Russian third seed, who completed a career Grand Slam by winning the French Open title in June, will face 21-year-old American college student Mallory Burdette to decide a berth in the last 16 on Friday.
"This is her first US Open main draw. 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 seven 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, an amateur wildcard ranked 252nd in the world, has only a handful of top-level matches to her name while Sharapova has four Grand Slam titles and experience at dealing with being both the crowd favourite and unfancied.
"It's a different type of emotion," Sharapova said. "I'm usually in my own little bubble when I play. You can certainly hear the crowd, the emotion, the energy, but I try to stay pretty levelheaded about the energy swings.
"I try not to focus too much on that and let that affect me."
That's a good idea, says Burdette, a psychology major who appreciates how well Sharapova keeps control of herself and a match.
"She plays on a big stage almost every day because she's so good," Burdette said. "It's hard out there sometimes. You get outside of yourself and you're worrying about things you can't control.
"That's one of the things she does a very good job of. You can tell she's in the zone every time she walks up to play a point. That's amazing."
What has surprised Sharapova, who has surrendered only five games in four sets through two matches, is that Burdette will be her third foe in a row on the Flushing Meadows hardcourts that she has never before faced.
"It's quite rare being on the tour for so many years and this will be the third opponent this tournament that I'll be facing for the first time," she said.
"But it's one of those things where you go into the match just focusing on what you have to do in your game, but also trying to figure her game and the things that maybe you want to look for in the first few games, try to figure that out as soon as possible to have a bit more of a game plan on your end.
"Overall you have to believe in what you have and not focus so much on your opponent and the fact that you haven't played her before."