Burdette a true student of the game

NEW YORK -- Mallory Burdette, a senior at Stanford University, is the early surprise of this U.S. Open, inexplicably through to the third round. She probably will play Maria Sharapova in a show-court match Friday.

If she were a professional, Burdette would have banked $37,000, a stout sum by any measure. Instead, she's going to leave the cash behind and head back to school when the improbable run is over.

"I have already checked the amateur box, so if I know correctly, you can't go back once the tournament starts," Burdette said.

"So it's done."

So is Lucie Hradecka, a credible player from the Czech Republic, who lost to Burdette 6-2, 6-4 on Wednesday. Burdette, a 21-year-old from Jackson, Ga., is now a perfect 2-0 in Grand Slam main-draw matches, a better winning percentage than, say, Serena Williams.

"This is quite an experience," Burdette said. "I'm really enjoying it. This is fun.

"I kind of thought I missed my chance at NCAAs when I lost in the finals. It wasn't even on my radar."

Burdette, a psychology major, won the USTA's wild card when she took the recent title at Vancouver. She is currently ranked No. 252 among WTA players, 183 spots below Hradecka, a silver medalist in doubles at the Olympics. There's no question she'll turn professional, but it probably won't happen until after her senior season at Stanford. In three years, she's fashioned a 104-22 record in singles and 97-22 in doubles.

"It's just been a very valuable experience, something that I think has definitely prepared me for playing pro tennis," Burdette said. "As of now, I am going back in the fall."

Baker's back in New York: If you follow tennis, you know the story. Brian Baker bursts on the scene as a top-level junior in 2003, then suffers a debilitating series of injuries -- necessitating five major surgeries -- and then comes back, seemingly out of nowhere.

After a sumptuous series of results, including a fourth-round result at Wimbledon, Baker returned to the U.S. Open for the first time in seven years. The 27-year-old from Nashville clocked Jan Hajek 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in a match that required less than two hours.

A year ago, Baker was nursing a sore shoulder and watching the U.S. Open on television. His ranking (No. 70) allowed him to qualify directly into the main draw.

"This is the first Grand Slam I have played where I haven't had to qualify or get a wild card," Baker said. "That was a sense of pride knowing I had done it on my own."

There was a bit of a hangover after his great run at the All England Club. He lost his first match at four straight tournaments -- including a Challenger in California -- before knocking off No. 17-ranked Philipp Kohlschreiber in the first round at Cincinnati.

"My mind is in the present now," Baker said. "I still have a long way to go this next couple of weeks."

Maybe the weekend is a more modest goal. Next up: No. 8 seed Janko Tipsarevic.

The run continues: Like Baker, Varvara Lepchenko led a charmed existence this spring and summer. The 26-year-old woman born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, who now lives as a U.S. citizen in Allentown, Pa., advanced to the fourth round at the French Open and the third at Wimbledon.

And now she's through to the second round at the U.S. Open. Lepchenko, seeded for the first time in a major (No. 31), handled Anastasia Rodionova 6-2, 6-2. Lepchenko is facing a meeting with No. 7 seed Samantha Stosur.

Another high five: If ever there was a five-set lock going into a match, this was it.

And Ernests Gulbis and Tommy Haas delievered. Haas, in his 15th appearance at the U.S. Open, won the first two sets but, like so many here these first three days, lost in five -- 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-3.

It was the ninth comeback from a 0-2 deficit so far, tying the U.S. Open record set in 1989. And there are still 11 days of play left.

More red, white and blue: Bob and Mike Bryan, the No. 2 seed in doubles, won their opening match in straight sets. With the surprising departure of the No. 1 and No. 4 seeds, things have opened up nicely for the Olympic gold medalists.

The Bryans have fellow Americans Steve Johnson and Jack Sock to thank for sending home top-seeded Daniel Nestor and Max Mirnyi. On Wednesday, Johnson posted another win, over Rajeev Ram 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-3. Johnson, 22, was a two-time NCAA singles champion at USC.