NEW YORK (AP) — A year ago at the U.S. Open, American teenager Melanie Oudin told the world to “BELIEVE,” with her sneakers and her play.
Among those she motivated: Beatrice Capra, an 18-year-old from Ellicott City, Md., and a wild-card entry who is following in Oudin’s footsteps at Flushing Meadows, albeit without any mottos on her shoes.
Making her Grand Slam debut — indeed, playing in the main draw of any tour-level event for the first time — the 371st-ranked Capra upset 18th-seeded Aravane Rezai of France 7-5, 2-6, 6-3 Thursday to reach the third round of the U.S. Open.
Capra, who trains at the Evert Academy in Delray Beach, Fla., is the youngest and lowest-ranked player left in the women’s field. She knows Oudin from the junior ranks and paid close attention in 2009, when a 17-year-old Oudin knocked off three-time major champion Maria Sharapova en route to the quarterfinals.
“I really look up to Melanie. I watched all of her matches last year, and I was just so happy for her. You know, it was really inspiring to me, because I played her a year before, and then she was getting to the quarters of a Grand Slam,” Capra said. “You know, I think she’s pushed all of the Americans to do better.”
Capra beat 95th-ranked Karolina Sprem in the opening round and could face — yep, you guessed it — Sharapova next.
“When I was younger,” Capra said earnestly, “I used to always look up to her.”
Sharapova was to play her second-round match Thursday night.
“If (Capra) wants to know, I’ll definitely let her know what I think about it,” Oudin said after winning in doubles Thursday. “Especially if she plays Sharapova, I’d tell her how I thought I beat her last year.”
After losing in the second round of singles Wednesday, Oudin spoke about being a “tiny bit relieved” about the prospect of distancing herself from the expectations and spotlight that accompanied last year’s surprising run in New York.
Now Oudin is keeping tabs on Capra, who goes by the nickname Trice, pronounced “Tree-See.”
“I’m really, really happy that she’s done well,” said Oudin, who is about 6½ months older. “For me, especially, I’m, like, great with the other American girls doing well, because she can take some of the stuff away from me. With her doing well, there can be more of us for people to pay more attention to, instead of, like, just me. The past year, it’s been mainly on me.”
Indeed, on Thursday, it was Capra whose news conference began with a reporter saying, “Congratulations, and tell us your life story, please.”
It was Capra who was followed out of the main interview room by a pack of media members that essentially ignored the next player due to speak, No. 1-seeded Caroline Wozniacki.
It was Capra who was introduced to TV viewers during an appearance on the ESPN2 set.
It was Capra whose coach wanted to know whether she still plans on competing in the junior girls’ tournament (the answer: yes, for now).
It was Capra who was asked whether she has anything inscribed on her shoes, the way Oudin did in 2009 and 2010, with “COURAGE” replacing “BELIEVE.”
Twelve months ago, Capra was playing in the junior U.S. Open and hoping one day to play in the main event. Now she’s doing just that — and winning. And it almost didn’t happen. Two weeks ago, she lost at the girls’ 18s USTA national championships, which awards a U.S. Open wild card to the winner.
So Capra went home to Maryland, figuring she would “calm down and chill with my family,” and wait till next year to play in a Grand Slam tournament’s main draw. But then she got a phone call from the U.S. Tennis Association, inviting her to go to Florida for an eight-player playoff for one wild card — and she won that.
“I was pretty excited,” Capra said Thursday, “but I never would have thought I would be in the third round here.”
Yet there she was, toppling Rezai, who made 49 unforced errors and wasn’t exactly heaping praise on Capra afterward.
“The match depends on me, because I did a lot of errors,” Rezai said. “She did nothing very exceptional. Not many winners. A lot of lucky balls on the line.”
Perhaps. But it’s Capra, not Rezai, who is still competing at the U.S. Open.