Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Fed Cup: Triumphant return to Saddlebrook for Shelby Rogers

WESLEY CHAPEL — The January air was raw. For that matter, so was her psyche. The previous year had walloped Shelby Rogers, leaving her with an aching back, a throbbing right knee and splintering confidence.

She needed this low-key 2016 tournament at Saddlebrook Resort, a $25,000 blip on the International Tennis Federation challenger circuit. For the Charleston, S.C., native, it was more about collecting mojo than money. After 17 first-round losses in 2015, Rogers needed to rediscover her timing — and her edge.

So she took the court to all the fanfare that roughly a dozen spectators could muster.

"The goal is to just get matches, get feeling healthy, get comfortable on the clay (court)," Rogers said. "I was staying with a family I knew that lives here in Saddlebrook, so they were there, my coach, maybe five others."

Rogers made it to the semi­finals, losing to eventual winner Sofia Kenin of Pembroke Pines. Four months later, she staged the most exhilarating run of her professional life, upsetting four consecutive opponents — including two-time Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova — to reach the quarterfinals of the claycourt French Open.

"I was super-positive, enjoying what I was doing, and everything just kind of came together," Rogers said.

Now, 15 months after arriving at Saddlebrook inconspicuously, Rogers returns triumphantly as a member of the U.S. Fed Cup team. Rehab has evolved into a rebirth.

This time, a few hundred more spectators will be watching. She will take center court today against the Czech Republic as the world's 49th-ranked singles player and the first American woman not named Williams to reach the French Open quarterfinals since 2005.

"She's got a lot of confidence," U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi said.

Rogers began this year with an upset of fourth-seeded Simona Halep in the first round of the Australian Open. This month at the Volvo Car Open in her hometown, she upset top-seeded American Madison Keys en route to the quarterfinals.

"I lost (17) first-round matches (in 2015). … I mean, that's tough," said Rogers, a devout Lightning fan who served as the team's social-media captain for a game two seasons ago.

"You feel like a total failure. And just kind of persevering through that, believing in myself and having a good team around me that is pushing me and believing in me as well, I'm pretty proud of myself for getting through that."

At times, Rogers grimaced her way through it.

The knee pain stemmed from a torn right MCL in 2015. Back problems followed. Amid her slump, Rogers, 24, said she pondered walking away from the sport she and older sister Sabra — who played at Emory University — had embraced after a prepubescent foray into dance lessons.

"I think everybody (has doubts)," she said. "Like, 'Okay, maybe I'm not good enough. Maybe I shouldn't do this. Maybe this wasn't meant for me. I tried.' But deep down I kind of believed, 'Okay, that's not true. You chose to do this; you love this sport. You play because this is what you want to do, and you know you're good enough. Just get healthy and get back at it.' "

Healthy for nearly a year, Rogers — versatile and rangy at 5 feet 9 — enters the Fed Cup with a dastardly serve and the type of match mettle necessary if the United States hopes to thwart the Czech Republic's recent dominance. The Czechs have won three straight titles and five of the past six. Rogers has converted 51.8 percent of her break-point chances this year, which ranks 10th on the WTA tour.

The only thing fragile these days are her tear ducts. Rogers is the odds-on favorite to well up first at today's opening ceremony, when pageantry and patriotism converge.

"Happy, sad, angry — anything can really trigger tears for me," she said.

Today, the tears come full circle.

All the way back to Saddlebrook.

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

. fast facts

Fed Cup semifinal

United States vs. Czech Republic, 11:30 a.m. today and 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Saddlebrook Resort (1 mile east of Interstate 75 at Exit 279), Wesley Chapel

Tickets: $30-$75 per day, $60-$150 two-day pass; via Ticketmaster at ticketmaster.com or toll-free 1-888-334-8782

Parking: $15 per day; shuttle service to venue

TV: noon today, 11 a.m. Sunday, Tennis Channel

Fed Cup: Triumphant return to Saddlebrook for Shelby Rogers 04/21/17 [Last modified: Friday, April 21, 2017 9:07pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. For starters: Rays vs. Orioles, seeking to halt a skid

    Blogs

    After being swept by the Rangers, and losing four straight, the Rays are looking to get back on track tonight against the Orioles, and they have LHP Blake Snell on the mound.

     Blake Snell will be on the mound tonight.
  2. Ever since the Bucs made Gerald McCoy the third overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft, he has struggled to overcome the shadow cast by Pro Bowl defensive tackle Warren Sapp.
  3. HomeTeam 100: Players 41-50

    Footballpreps

    Bulldog QB Charles Harrison III, (12) during the fourth quarter of the Zephyrhills at Nature Coast High School football game on Friday, 11/11/16.
  4. Lake Tarpon bass tournament still going strong after nearly 40 years (w/video)

    Outdoors

    Matt Smith, left, and Gary Muchler, work to bring a large mouth bass into Smith's bass boat with only minutes to spare while fishing off Dolly Bay in Lake Tarpon during the Lake Tarpon Tuesday Night Bass Fishing Tournament on Tuesday (7/18/17). The fish sealed second place for the duo.
  5. Rays series preview: Who are the Orioles?

    Blogs

    After the Rangers swept them over the weekend, the Rays won't have much time to rest, with 14 games scheduled for the next 14 days. The second half of their homestand begins tonight against the Orioles. Here's the information you need to know about Baltimore before the action kicks off.

    Starter Wade Miley has melted down after a hot start.