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Burdette leads charge of young American women in Paris

May 26, 2013 06:27 PM
Mallory Burdette is one of 15 American women entered in the French Open main draw, the most of any country.
After claiming the 2013 wild card, Shelby Rogers went on to win her first career Grand Slam singles match at the French Open.
 By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com
 
Paris – Lisa Raymond was the last collegiate woman to become a major impact player in singles, coming out of the University of Florida in 1993 and eventually reaching No. 15 in singles and No.1 in doubles.
 
But no female American collegian has come close to that level of success since then. Stanford’s Laura Granville cracked the Top 30 but was not able to sustain that success.
 
That might be about to change. On Sunday, another former Stanford Cardinal, Mallory Burdette, took down the talented Croatian teenager Donna Vekic, 6-3, 6-4 in the first round of 2013 French Open. 
 
Afterward, she acknowledged the substantial progress she has made in the past year. With the win, she'll crack at least The Top 80 when the next set of rankings is released, and she could climb even higher with a few more victories this week. Given that she came on tour last July with few ranking points and now is getting directly into Grand Slam main draws, it’s clear that she is a player to watch. 
 
"I really had no expectations," Burdette said. "If you told me a year ago I was playing in the NCAA tournament that I would be here this year I would say, 'You're absolutely crazy.' So I guess it's just a testament to the fact that you have to work day in and day out. You never knew what all the hard work will bring you."
 
The Georgia native worked on everything, but improved fitness has been a key component of her success. On tour, she is able to focus on her tennis and training 24/7. As good as a tennis school that Stanford is, it is also a high-level academic institution that demands a lot of its student-athletes.
 
"At least for me, at Stanford there was really no down time," she said. "You're at class all morning and practice all afternoon, and then as soon as you're done with practice you grab food and you head home and study. There is just no free time. You're balancing two pretty difficult tasks at one time, whereas now I've really enjoyed just focusing on tennis."
 
Burdette lost a heartbreaker last year at the NCAAs, which was eventually won by Florida, so she was thrilled to see her teammates storm through the championships last week as the 12th seed, upending the Gators so win the title. In one way she wished she could have been there, but deep down she also knows that at least some of her teammates would gladly trade places with her – alive at major with a chance to play 2012 Wimbledon finalist Agnieszka Radwanska in the second round.
 
"They obviously didn't need me at all this year, so I'm so happy for them," she said, smiling. "I’ve had moments in my college career that were pretty electric. But, obviously, at the Grand Slams there is really just nothing like it."
 
Burdette is part of a strong crop of young U.S. women who are already making their mark on tour. In fact, the U.S. has 15 women in the Roland Garros main draw, the most of any nation, which made the county’s top player, Serena Williams, very proud.
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"I think the quality over the past year has jumped tremendously with the female U.S. players," said Serena, who lost in the first round this year but is the favorite for this year’s title. "I think last year here, outside of me, all the U.S. girls did really, really well, and I think we started to see then just so many players just popping up left and right. Fifteen in the main draw? That's pretty awesome. So it is a lot of players, but they're all really young. So there is still an opportunity to grow."
 
That is what USTA Player Development is hoping for and has been working on. Burdette is part of that program, as are a bunch of other players in Paris including Sloane Stephens, Melanie Oudin, Varvara Lepchenko, Jamie Hampton, Madison Keys and Taylor Townsend. 
 
Shelby Rogers, who won the USTA Wild Card Playoff to get into the main draw of Roland Garros, also had her day under the [cold] Paris sun, knocking off Irena Pavlovic, 6-3, 6-4. 
 
Rogers did most of her spring work in the U.S. While after qualifying for Charleston and reaching the quarters, where she fell to Serena, Burdette traveled to Europe to get herself used to the red clay. Burdette considers herself a student of the game and likes figuring out new situations. She enjoys working her way up and discovering what adjustments she has to make with her game in order to be successful on dirt. 
 
Burdette has already realized that she can’t just simply bang her way out of trouble, and her results in the past month are indicative of that growth. She qualified for both Rome and Brussels, even scoring wins over Keys and Townsend in the process. 
 
"The fact that I'm getting to play them in these tournaments means they're doing well, too, so that's a really good thing," she said. "I think we're all pushing each other. That's exactly what we need for American tennis."
 
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And for more Pro Tennis coverage, including coverage of Americans at the 2013 French Open, go to the USTA.com Pro Tennis page.
 
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