Capra carries area hopes into U.S. Open

Ellicott City native takes on veteran Sprem in first round Tuesday

August 31, 2010|By Sandra McKee, The Baltimore Sun

The first time Baltimore's Pam Shriver went to the U.S. Open, she was an excited 16-year-old amateur. Her response to the pressure was to beat Martina Navratilova on her way to the women's singles final, where she lost a close match to Chris Evert.

Quite a coming-out party.

On Monday, during a break from her on-air broadcasting job for ESPN during this year's Open, Shriver recalled how hard it was to keep everything in check. The reason for her trip down memory lane is that for the first time since Shriver retired from professional tennis in 1997, the Baltimore area will have a woman playing in the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament today.

Ellicott City's Beatrice Capra, 18, who attended McDonogh before moving to Florida three years ago to sharpen her focus on tennis, will face eight-year veteran Karolina Sprem of Croatia in the first round of the U.S. Open.

No one is predicting a Shriver-like opening run. Shriver says she is excited just to see a Baltimore-area player in the Open again.

"I don't recall anyone making it to the main draw from our area since Andrea [Leand], Elise [Burgin] and I did it. Â I'm going to go and watch her play at least part of her match.

"She's playing a decent first-round match," Shriver said. "Sprem is an eight-year veteran, but not a seeded player. Bea should have time to get into the game. What she has to do is try to prepare with all her usual rituals and not be overwhelmed. It's Day 2, not a big court and she should have some people she knows here. But it's still hard to do."

Shriver, Burgin and Leand, all from this area, turned pro in 1979, 1980 and 1981, respectively. Since then, several area players have played in the junior ranks, but none has made it to the main draw.

Capra accomplished the feat Aug. 20 by upsetting top-seeded junior Madison Brengle, 7-6 (4), 6-4, to win the U.S. Open wild-card playoff in Boca Raton, Fla.

A year ago, Capra's dream was to make the top 10 of the junior ranks, which she did this year when she won the Italian Open juniors title. Now, she is on the same stage as Melanie Oudin, who was last year's Open sweetheart and who only the year before was playing in the same tournaments as Capra.

"I just love getting better," Capra told Tribune Newspapers after her Italian win, and nothing has changed.

Shriver saw Capra play last year in the Wimbledon Juniors and thought, "She's a real talent." She also came away thinking she had seen Capra's forehand before.

"Her mother, Laurie, and I played in Maryland Junior Tennis 35 years ago," Shriver said. "Yikes! What I remember very clearly is that she had a big forehand."

Mary Joe Fernandez, a CBS broadcaster and the United States Fed Cup coach, has had her eyes on Capra for more than a year.

"She's a hard, hard worker and kind of a grinder," Fernandez said. "She gives a great effort every time out. Â She's in very good shape, has an aggressive forehand and a two-handed backhand."

Capra will have to be in good condition as one of the hottest days at the Open in the past 20 years is predicted today.

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