Beatrice Capra, 17, hits a backhand during her girls singles… (Getty Images )
For Beatrice Capra, reaching the third round of last year's U.S. Open seemed less like a fairytale and more like a wakeup call.
While the amateur tennis player from Ellicott City had a chance to showcase her talent at the Grand Slam tournament, it also forced her to realize she was growing up and needed to make some major decisions.
Almost a year after facing Maria Sharapova at Arthur Ashe Stadium, Capra, 19, is preparing to attend Duke University in the fall. That means pushing aside an opportunity to play professionally, a decision that was only made tougher by her success at the Open.
"I always thought I was going to go straight into college," said Capra, who attended McDonogh before enrolling at the Chris Evert Tennis Academy in Boca Raton, Fla., at the age of 16. "It's difficult when something like the U.S. Open happens. It changes your perspective.
"I think college allows me to develop my game and get a lot of matches and experience and get away from the pro circuit scene for a while. I think if you're out there for too long at a young age, you're going to burn out."
Along with preparing for school, Capra still has a busy summer planned on the court, including playing in professional tournaments and for the Philadelphia Freedoms of World TeamTennis.
She'll need to improve her current world ranking of 245 to earn a spot in the U.S. Open qualifying tournament in late August. She qualified for last year's Open through a separate United States Tennis Association (USTA) wild card playoff.
Capra also needs to transition from a successful junior career — during which she rose as high as No. 8 in the world among juniors — to college tennis.
It was less than two weeks after losing to her childhood idol Sharapova 6-0, 6-0 in the third round of the Open that Capra made her official visit to Duke.
She said she instantly "fell in love" with the university and committed in November.
But in a sport that's had its share of teenage stars through the years, the choice to attend college and put off a pro career can be tough.
ESPN tennis analyst Pam Shriver was a 16-year-old student at McDonogh when she reached the U.S. Open final in 1978. She turned down potential prize money to remain an amateur and return for her senior year of high school. Shriver turned pro after graduating in 1979.
"To be able to get a scholarship and get an education at a place like Duke …when you look at the picture of one's life, is tremendous," Shriver said of Capra's situation. "If it ends up being a little bit of a drawback for a while to the tennis side of things, well, it's a tradeoff, isn't it?"
Capra — who is considering majoring in journalism or communications — said she didn't feel pressured by her parents to attend college. Her mother, Laurie, was a two-time All-American at South Florida.
"I think my mom wanted me to go to college and experience a college life, but it was ultimately my choice," Capra said.
Patrick McEnroe, the general manager of player development for the USTA, said the average age of players is increasing in today's professional circuit, especially on the women's side.
"I think for Beatrice to go to college is an excellent decision," he said. "I think she'll mature a little more physically and mentally, and I think she'll be a little more prepared in the pros. …
"I think you're seeing men and even women now peaking a little later. It used to be that you could be 16 and 17 and competing for Grand Slams. That's really not the case in the pro game anymore, because of the physicality of the game."
Capra has struggled with her form since last year's Open, losing in the first round of seven of her last eight events. In her first tournament after the Open, an event in Kansas City, she fell off a curb, spraining her foot and requiring stitches in her ankle.
It took her two months to fully recover, and at the same time she admits to dealing with internal pressure.
"Anyone can look at my results and say, 'What happened?'" Capra said. "At the time [after the Open], I did want to turn pro, and I put so much pressure on myself this year trying to prove to everyone that, 'No, I don't need to go to college, I can just turn pro.' I just wanted everything to be so perfect this year, instead of worrying about what I need to improve on, that I just put so much pressure on myself."
Considering that pressure, Capra is looking forward to the team aspect of college tennis.
"I think it's definitely going to be different, but I've been working hard my entire life, and it's like all the pressure has always been on me," she said. "Depending on some of my peers, who are supporting me, will help me a lot. And I'm really excited because I really love my team."
Jamie Ashworth, Duke's head coach, seems just as excited to have Capra on his team.
"She's a really smart player," he said. "She doesn't make a lot of unforced errors. If you're going to beat her, you have to beat her. She doesn't give away a lot of free points. She's going to be a great college player because of that. She does a great job of staying in the present."
For Capra, the present is busy time, but also a fulfilling one.
"I think I'm in a great place right now," she said. "I haven't had the year that I hoped that I would have after the U.S. Open, but it's been a great learning experience for me this year to know that I have to mature and I have to take responsibly for my life. I think college will do that and allow me to focus on me, and what I need to work on in my game to become the best tennis player I can be."