Mallory Burdette has crossed paths with the great Serena Williams. She’s said hi.
“But I’ve never had a conversation with her,” Burdette said.
As the latest young American to pull a Family Circle Cup upset, the 22-year-old former Stanford All-American gets a dream-come-true shot at the world’s top-ranked player today.
Burdette took a deep breath Wednesday after a 3-6, 7-6, 7-5 victory over No. 15 seed Sabine Lisicki. She pumped her left fist a few times and took a sweet walk across green clay on the Althea Gibson Court for a handshake from the former Family Circle Cup champion.
Burdette upset then-No. 27 Tamira Paszek at Indian Wells last month, but this was just as special, probably more. Lisicki, famed for her power serve, is currently No. 41 but has been ranked as high as No. 12.
Burdette is from Jackson, Ga., approximately 50 miles southeast of Atlanta. Her mother, the former Judy Bernat, grew up in Charleston.
“We’ve had a lot of fun going out to dinner,” Burdette said. “I just feel very relaxed and comfortable here. That’s the same way I was feeling out on the court, and I think it definitely helped me pull through that match. I’m really looking forward to my next round. It will be a great experience to play Serena and see how my game matches up against the best.”
Opportunities like this are exactly why Burdette decided last summer to skip her senior year at Stanford. Yes, she is delaying entry to medical school and a career as a psychiatrist.
But win or lose against Serena, Burdette will shoot up the WTA rankings from No. 99.
It was the third high-quality win for a Family Circle Cup qualifier in 24 hours. Jessica Pegula, a 19-year-old American who lived in Hilton Head and is the daughter of billionaire Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula, upset No. 10 Mona Barthel on Tuesday. Canadian Eugenie Bouchard, 19, eliminated No. 16 Laura Robson on Wednesday.
Burdette, Pegula and Madison Keys (also a winner Wednesday), are part of a second wave of young American star prospects behind a better known group that includes Family Circle Cup participants Sloane Stephens, Christina McHale, Jamie Hampton and Melanie Oudin.
But Burdette isn’t new to high pressure. As a freshman at Stanford, she delivered the game-winning stroke in the 2010 NCAA championship victory over Florida.
The Lisicki match was every bit the test Burdette expected. Burdette had a 40-0 lead at 5-4 in the third set but required a sixth match point to close.
“I knew that she wasn’t going to give it to me,” Burdette said. “That’s why I definitely had to work for it there at the end. I just had to pick a target on each one of my shots and stay aggressive.”
Her father, Dr. Alan Burdette, was on hand. Judy Burdette had to return home, but hoped to come back to Daniel Island today.
Though Alan and Judy are University of Georgia graduates and all the Burdettes are Georgia Bulldogs fans, Mallory was the third Burdette sister to play tennis at Stanford. Erin was first, helping the Cardinal win national titles in 2002, ’04 and ’05. Lindsay, a four-time All-American, played two years ahead of Mallory at Stanford. Older brother Andy played tennis at Army.
Little sister credits her mother for turning the family on to tennis and her siblings for motivation.
Yeah, this WTA Tour thing is working out. The decision to turn pro came after Burdette advanced to the third round of the 2012 U.S. Open before losing to Maria Sharapova.
She won twice in the Indian Wells main draw last month.
Someone asked Burdette if Wednesday’s win made her feel more like she belongs.
“A little bit,” she said. “I don’t know.”
A lot. Here comes a third-round match against Serena in mom’s hometown, and maybe that first substantive conversation.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff.