From Charleston to the WTA Tour, Shelby Rogers is ready for more success

by Jonathon Braden

In 2009, Shelby Rogers was a 16-year-old girl caught between practical thinking and her childhood dream.

Rogers, who grew up in Charleston and started playing tennis at age 4, was deciding whether to continue her tennis career as an amateur or turn pro. She eventually settled on the latter, becoming the first junior tennis player from Charleston to turn professional.

“I just felt like I would always regret it if I didn’t try,” Rogers said.

Shelby Rogers pumps her fist to celebrate a big point against Daniela Hantuchova on March 31 at the Family Circle Cup in Charleston. (USTA South Carolina.)

Shelby Rogers pumps her fist to celebrate a big point against Daniela Hantuchova on March 31 at the Family Circle Cup in Charleston. (USTA South Carolina.)

She has struggled, like most teenagers competing in professional sports. But five years later, Rogers, now 21, has experienced success on the Women’s Tennis Association tour and is set to continue that in 2014.

On March 31, she achieved her highest singles ranking yet, at No. 109. Earlier last month, she earned one of the biggest wins of her career, beating Petra Cetkovska, No. 90 in the world at the time, in straight sets.

Last year, Rogers also won her first match in a Grand Slam main draw, advancing to the second round of the French Open.

“Being the first person to (turn pro) is exciting but at the same time, it’s a little nerve-racking,” Rogers said. “Right now, I have no regrets… I’m really happy I did make that choice.”

The decision looks better because Rogers has worked to improve every day, said Bryan Minton, Rogers’ former coach in Charleston.

Minton coached Rogers from age 6 to 17 at the Family Circle Tennis Center. When she was 17, Rogers left to train at the USTA National Center in Boca Raton, Fla.
Even when she was in middle school and high school, Minton said, Rogers’ work ethic stood out.

When some kids reach high school, they might miss a Friday practice because they go to a football game with some friends. Soon, the kids are skipping Saturday practices because of sleepovers, and weeks later, something else comes up, and the kids are missing weeks at a time.

That never happened with Rogers, Minton said.

“She knew she wanted to be a tennis player. She knew it was going to take sacrifice,” he said. “Obviously she’s talented, and she’s also very willing to work on the things she’s not good at to make herself better.”

Lately, Rogers has focused on getting in better shape.

She always ran sprints or ran on the treadmill, Minton said, but conditioning was never something Rogers enjoyed nor did she want to work at it for long periods of time.
These days, though, Rogers works with Pat Etcheberry, the well-known trainer who has worked with numerous tennis greats, such as Pete Sampras, Justine Henin and Jim Courier.

On a recent day, Minton said, just one part of Rogers’ workout with Etcheberry was 60 50-yard sprints.

How she views fitness also has changed, Minton said; Rogers loves getting in better shape.

Rogers said her improved fitness level has given her more confidence on the court.

“Everybody is superhuman almost,” Rogers said of her peers. “These girls won’t miss a ball, and you have to get to a point where you’re confident you can stay out there.”

She’s also has had more success because she has learned how to play against the world’s top players.

Better fitness and more confidence has let Rogers compete better against players like Hantuchova. (USTA South Carolina photo.)

A focus on fitness and more confidence has let Rogers compete better against players like Hantuchova. (USTA South Carolina photo.)

She hits with more topspin than she used to, which gives her more room for error on her shots. She also tries to better pick when to hit big and go for winners.

Rogers looked much improved earlier this week at the Family Circle Cup, her hometown tournament.

In first-round play, Rogers outplayed world-No. 32 Daniela Hantuchova for much of the match on Stadium Court. Rogers served for the first set and twice served for the second set but was unable to close either set. Hantuchova won in straight sets, 7-5, 7-5.

After the match, Rogers said that although she wished she would have won the match, she was glad to show family and friends how much she has improved. An emotional Rogers also promised to keep working.

“I try to treat it just like any other match, but in reality it’s not,” she said. “I’m just really blessed that I get to play here and be a part of such an incredible event.”