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After Breakthrough Year, Rogers Goes for More

April 6, 2015 08:16 PM


Jonathon Braden
USTA South Carolina

Last year was the year Shelby Rogers had envisioned having ever since she turned pro five years ago.

She beat Eugenie Bouchard in Montreal, Bouchard’s hometown. Rogers made her first WTA final. For the first time, she ended the year with a ranking inside the top 100.

But for all the breakthroughs Rogers experienced last year, she's still without one that's close to home: a main draw win at the Family Circle Cup. The tournament, which begins its main draw play Monday on Daniel Island, is played just blocks away from where Rogers' parents live and miles from where the family used to live in Mount Pleasant.

Rogers competes in last year's Family Circle Cup. She's hoping to advance well into the main draw this year. (Family Circle Cup photo.)

"This tournament is very special to me," she said in a phone interview.

For two years, Rogers was a ball girl at the tournament. During the 2001 Family Circle Cup, Rogers even carried flowers to and drew a kiss on the cheek from that year's champion, Jennifer Capriati.

I want to play here one day,” Rogers remembers thinking.

She trained at the Family Circle Tennis Center, where the tournament is played, from age 6 to 17. As a touring pro, she has returned since, always at least playing in the tournament’s qualifying rounds but never winning a main draw match.

Last year in the first round, she held leads of 5-3 in the first set and 5-2 in the second before losing, 5-7, 5-7 to then world-No. 32 Daniela Hantuchova. In 2011, Rogers split sets with Jill Craybas before losing 0-6 in the third.

Friends and family have watched every time Rogers has played in the tournament. A set of grandparents, two great aunts, a great uncle, her parents and her sister and brother-in-law all live in the Charleston area.

There are a lot of nerves involved as well because I want to do well in front of them. I probably make it a little harder than I should on myself,” Rogers said.

This year, Rogers has had an easier path to the Family Circle Cup. Because of her higher ranking – No. 86 – she did not have to qualify for the tournament. But not having to qualify into tournaments has been an adjustment for Rogers.

She no longer can work her way into a tournament and get comfortable with her game against lesser opponents before reaching top players later in the draw.

In February at a tournament in Acapulco, Rogers’ first opponent was No. 1 seed Maria Sharapova. Rogers lost 4-6, 1-6.

I have to play my best tennis right off the bat,” Rogers said.

She will try to do that by getting herself to believe she belongs with the strong competition she faces at the start of tournaments. Rogers also plans to be better prepared physically, arriving at tournament sites a day or two earlier and hitting with better players.

To that end, Rogers should be match ready Monday when she faces Sílvia Soler-Espinosa in the second match to go on Family Circle Stadium Court. Last week, Rogers entered the $50,000 USTA Pro Circuit tournament in Osprey, Fla, and won two matches.

Monday, though, she will be in a tournament main draw. “Our hometown girl is coming back to play the hometown tournament,” said Sabra Rogers Hand, Shelby's older sister.

And as always, Shelby Rogers' family and friends will be in the stands, trying to will their hometown girl to another career breakthrough.

It’s awesome and it’s cool to get in the main draw on my own with my ranking – I don’t have to get a wild card,” Rogers said. “I’m so thankful for the wild cards in the past and I’ve got those experiences. And I feel like it’s prepared me for this moment.”