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. Bucs journal: Kicker Nick Folk has up and downs against Jaguars

    Bucs

    JACKSONVILLE — If the Bucs had hoped for a drama-free night in their kicking game, they'll have to wait another week.

    Bucs kicker Nick Folk celebrates one of his two made field goals against the Jaguars, but he also misses a field goal and has an extra point blocked.
  2. Bucs top Jaguars behind strong first half

    Bucs

    JACKSONVILLE

    There is a reason why the air in Tampa Bay is filled with playoff talk. If Thursday night's 12-8 Bucs preseason win over the Jaguars is any indication, it's also going to be filled with footballs thrown by quarterback Jameis Winston.

    Doug Martin gets the Bucs’ only touchdown  on a 2-yard run, squeaking past linebacker Telvin Smith in the first quarter. He has five carries for 30 yards.
  3. Rays journal: Archer has strong outing, with two mistakes

    The Heater

    TORONTO — Two pitches RHP Chris Archer didn't execute are the ones that stood out Thursday as Josh Donaldson hit them out of the park. But the two solo home runs aside, Archer turned in a sterling outing that went atop the pile of good pitching the Rays keep wasting.

    Rays starting pitcher Chris Archer (22) works during the first inning. [Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP]
  4. Tim Tebow continues wowing fans as he wraps up bay area games

    Minors

    CLEARWATER — Tracey Fritzinger has seen Tim Tebow play baseball a few times this year. The 40-year-old St. Petersburg resident went to two of his games against the Tampa Yankees, along with Joy, her little sister from Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.

    St. Lucie Mets outfielder Tim Tebow, middle, hangs out in the dugout during Thursday night’s game against the Clearwater Threshers at Spectrum Field, the last of St. Lucie’s eight-day trip to the Tampa Bay area.
  5. Rays vs. Mariners, 7:10 Friday, Tropicana Field

    The Heater

    Tonight: vs. Mariners

    7:10, Tropicana Field

    TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun, 620-AM, 680-AM (Spanish)

    Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Austin Pruitt (50) in the dugout during the ninth inning of the game between the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays on Opening Day at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, April 2, 2017. The Tampa Bay Rays beat the New York Yankees 7-3.