As she stretched her long legs sitting in a lounge chair in the Darling Tennis Center lobby waiting for her Party Rock Open second-round match to start, Mallory Burdette focused her attention from her iPod to the big-screen television on the wall facing her.
Maria Sharapova was battling Samantha Stosur in the quarterfinals of the WTA Toray Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo. About a month ago, Burdette, still a collegian, was staring across the net at Sharapova in Arthur Ashe Stadium during their third-round match of the U.S. Open.
Burdette didn't have a Flushing Meadows flashback as she watched Stosur and Sharapova slug it out. But she might have been taking mental notes in case she and Sharapova meet again. That's a likely possibility now that the 21-year-old from Macon, Ga., has turned pro.
"It's the most exciting time of my life," said Burdette, who defeated veteran Madison Brengle 6-3, 6-3 Thursday on the Darling stadium court. "I feel like I'm in a very good place right now."
Burdette will face Lauren Davis in today's featured quarterfinal match at 6:30 p.m. Davis, the No. 2 seed, eliminated Las Vegas' Asia Muhammad 6-3, 6-3 Thursday after Muhammad couldn't hold a 3-1 first-set lead.
Burdette pounded Brengle with hard, flat groundstrokes, and had she not committed so many unforced errors, the win would have come quicker. After breaking Brengle's serve twice in the first set, Burdette got up an early break in the second set and broke Brengle again at 3-1 with strong net play and wicked forehand returns.
Burdette had planned to be in a classroom at Stanford this week to begin her senior year. But her plans changed after she won a $100,000 tournament in Vancouver, British Columbia, this summer, giving her a spot in the U.S. Open field as a wild card.
She won her first two matches, defeating Switzerland's Timea Bacsinszky and the Czech Republic's Lucie Hradecka, before falling to Sharapova. At that point, Burdette decided her pursuit of a degree in psychology could wait.
"I thought the timing was right" to turn pro, she said. "I promised my parents I would go back and finish and get my degree. But I want to see how far I can go with tennis."
She was part of a national championship team as a freshman in 2010, won the NCAA doubles title as a sophomore in 2011 and reached the 2012 NCAA singles final before losing to teammate Nicole Gibbs. She loved the challenge that Stanford provides academically and probably would be in class today had she not done so well on the court this summer.
"It was time to try," she said. "But it's definitely different. The big thing is I don't have my teammates and my family with me. There aren't a lot of people to hang out with."
So she spends her off time in Las Vegas in her room at the Suncoast, eating by herself and trying to relax. Though she's old enough to gamble and hit the nightclubs, Burdette is keeping a safe distance from both.
"I'm not much of a gambler," she said.
Her ability to combat loneliness will be tested in the coming weeks. Like many players competing at the Party Rock Open, Burdette will be headed to Europe to try to boost her ranking and secure enough points to receive a spot in the WTA tournaments in 2013, particularly January's Australian Open. She was ranked No. 165 this week.
"I'm in pretty good shape," she said. "I feel like I'm playing with house money right now. But I want to see if I can get higher in the rankings, and the experience of playing overseas should help me."
Contact reporter Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.