Updated: September 5, 2010, 9:33 AM ET

Unflappable Sharapova issuing stern warning

Garber By Greg Garber

NEW YORK -- There will be no charming, heart-tugging Melanie Oudin scenario this year at the U.S. Open.

The day after Ryan Harrison put on a spectacular second-round show in losing to Sergiy Stakhovsky, fellow 18-year-old Beatrice Capra exited from the National Tennis Center with a whimper.

Capra, from Ellicott City, Md., was on the wrong end of a 6-0, 6-0 score, losing to 2006 Open champion Maria Sharapova. Capra, ranked No. 371 among WTA Tour players, was playing her highest-ever ranked opponent.

The last time there was a double bagel here in the third round? Twenty-six years ago, when Martina Navratilova took out Jennifer Mundel.

"When you're like losing that bad, it's just in your head like, 'Just please let me win one game,'" Capra said, smiling. "I never even thought I was going to play this tournament, so just being in the tournament was amazing. But playing on Arthur Ashe in front of that many people, I'll definitely remember that for the rest of my life. And winning on Grandstand, that was one of the best moments of my life."

Capra, who won the first and second WTA main-draw matches of her life in the first two rounds, hit three winners, compared to 17 for Sharapova.

Sharapova is no stranger to rising American teenagers. Last year here, she blasted 17-year-old Christina McHale off the court 6-2, 6-1 in their second-round match. And then she lost to Oudin in a taut three-set affair.

Capra picked Oudin's brain before her match about how to beat Sharapova. She was trying to become the fifth women's wild card in U.S. Open history (going back to 1987) to advance as far as the fourth round; Martina Hingis (2002), Serena Williams (2006) and Kim Clijsters (2009) were three of them.

In many respects, the first game was Capra's best. Serving in the brutal breeze, she played 14 points (four of them at deuce) and lasted eight minutes before a powerful Sharapova forehand glanced off her racket frame. That game foretold the final result.

"I think I had a little bit too much firepower in the beginning, and that kind of really maybe caught her off guard, and she was late for a few balls," Sharapova said. "And then towards the end of the match, I think she started going for a little bit more and making a few more errors."

Sharapova was once a prodigy herself, that exceedingly rare 17-year-old with the stuff to win a Grand Slam title. Six years later, she is a survivor.

Her long, lithe body has betrayed her; she is only now just returning to form after serious shoulder surgery nearly two years ago. Her left heel/ankle, which muted her piercing shrieks a few weeks ago in Cincinnati, may still be an issue.

And yet, oddly, the one thing that may prevent her from winning this truly wide-open U.S. Open is her signature trait: mental toughness. Or the curious lack of it.

Leading Clijsters 6-2, 5-3 in the Cincinnati final, Sharapova held three match points -- and found a way to lose. She was serving for the match at 5-4 and gave Clijsters the gift of a double fault.

In the absence of Serena and Justine Henin, it's not inconceivable that these two women -- Clijsters, the defending champion after an abrupt retirement, and Sharapova, who has had a four-year sabbatical here since winning in 2006 -- in the final.

It's a logical thought since only two other women in the field have won here -- Venus Williams (2000-01) and Svetlana Kuznetsova (2004). But in tennis terms, that was quite a while ago. With Sharapova nursing that ankle injury, Clijsters playing with a sore hip and Venus coming off a two-month layoff after Wimbledon due to a knee injury, health will be a huge factor in navigating seven matches.

No one tries harder, or seems to care more about each point. The fact is, Sharapova hasn't had a lot of big-time matches this year. Before the recent tournaments at Stanford and Cincinnati, it had been nearly a year since she had beaten a top-10 player. That changed when she decked Elena Dementieva and Agnieszka Radwanska -- and Kuznetsova, too -- with a bigger game that suggests her shoulder is recovered.

The ultimate test will come Monday when Sharapova meets No. 1 seed Caroline Wozniacki in the fourth round.

"I still have to play my game," Sharapova said. "I still have to be aggressive. She's the type of opponent that's going to make you hit a lot of balls and is going to make you hit the extra ball. I think I have to be aggressively patient."

Who do you think will win the tournament, Sharapova was asked, yourself of somebody else?

"That's a funny question," she said. "Going into a tournament, if you think that anyone else is going to win but you, you've got some serious problems. You shouldn't enter it."

3 Things I KNOW I Think

1. The wind was the only winner here Saturday: At one point, Maria Sharapova's blonde ponytail was stretched completely horizontal. Later, she had a service return well within her reach and fanned on the ball when it took a massive dip. The remnants of Hurricane Earl wrecked havoc on the matches, particularly in swirly Arthur Ashe Stadium. Jelena Jankovic swung at a serve and the ball moved so much, she barely got the top of the racket on it. It went high in the air, and Jankovic stood on the baseline, squinting into the sun, admiring the majesty of her accomplishment.

2. Speaking of Jankovic, she continues to be a riddle wrapped in an enigma -- enveloped by a conundrum: The No. 4 seed served for the second set against Kaia Kanepi, but it eluded her. And so, after playing two three-set matches, the No. 4 seed flamed out in the third round, losing 6-2, 7-5. Jankovic was broken five times and produced only 13 winners and 41 unforced errors. "I think my opponent handled the wind a lot better," Jankovic said, "and she made a lot more balls than I did in the court."

3. Bradley Klahn calls them as he see them (and he sees them exceedingly well): The 20-year-old from Stanford University is the reigning NCAA singles champion, but he was bounced from the draw by fellow American Sam Querrey in the first round. Still, he takes a piece of history with him, a perfect game, if you will. Klahn challenged line calls five times in that four-set match -- and all four times replays proved him right, resulting in overturns.

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.


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