By Jane Voigt
Daniel Island, S.C., April 4, 2017 — As the main draw of The Volvo Car Open got underway in earnest today, fans were relieved. The cranky storm that ripped through the area last night had passed. The sun came out. All was right with the world.
Except when hometown girl Shelby Rogers frittered away a two-break lead in the third set, during her opening round match. Qualifier Veronica Cepede Royg of Paraguay had surged back, confounding Rogers’ intentions for a short afternoon. Rogers lost all advantage, as fans held their collective breath. Long rallies persisted, Cepede Royg running down everything.
The set spun to a tiebreak … a dangerous spot for any tennis player.
“I was thinking that I needed to change what I was doing,” Rogers said. “I was trying to be more aggressive and not let her push me back so much.”
On her second match point, though, Rogers sent a bullet backhand down the line to win, 6-7(1), 6-3, 7-6(6). She proved the maxim that it’s hard to close out a match.
“Yeah, there were definitely a lot of momentum changes in the match,“ Rogers began. “It’s always nice to get that first win on clay and especially here in front of that crowd. Having my family and friends, going through a battle is extra special. They were absolutely amazing today, especially when I didn’t have my A-game. So, I’m happy to get those last couple points.”
Currently ranked No. 52, Rogers rise in the game usurped the normal slog upward after an unimaginable quarterfinal run at Roland Garros last spring. Coming in at No. 118, she became the ninth player ranked outside the top 100 to advance to the last eight in Paris since 1983. She defeated Karolina Pliskova, Petra Kvitova and Irina-Camille Begu along the way, all of them seeded players. Rogers lost to eventual champion, Garbine Muguruza, but left more confident than ever.
Rogers has not had the best of luck, though, here at her home-town event. This is her eighth appearance and she’s only won one main-draw match back in 2015. On top of that hurdle, she’s lost twice to players ranked outside the top 100 this year. With Cepede Royg ranked No. 117, the possibility of losing today may have crossed the American’s mind.
“She raised the level of her game in the third set,” Rogers said. “She didn’t miss a ball in the third set.”
The two women started today with Rogers down 1-3. The match was scrapped last night, as whipping winds and slapping rains quickly scattered fans. The expectations of facing another loss became a reality soon enough. Rogers went down 1-5, before digging in. She began to smack the ball, a la Roland Garros.
She evened the set, took it to a tiebreak and fell apart. Here was another classic example taken from the pages of match-play. Club players know it all too well. They battle back, their expectations too far in front. Because of that, they stumble. Rogers did the same. She fought back and gained momentum then threw it all in the trash with errors and sloppy serving. Never fear, though, opponents need to win two sets.
Roger’s determination was palpable in the second. She broke early and road the wave, punctuating the set’s success with an ace.
The final set perked along to plan. She went up a break, then another. It was 4-0 before Cepede Royg got on the board. But Roger’s wobbled, yet again. She failed to serve out the match twice. Cepede Royg took complete advantage of the situation, the green light glowing as brightly as a holiday bulb on a Christmas tree.
Crowds gathered behind the last row of seats in the stadium. Women whispered, anticipating disaster but unwilling to fail their girl. “Shelby, Shelby,” they shouted.
Then that dreaded spot was in front of her yet again … a tiebreak.
Neither woman held serve as rallies lengthened, the crack of the ball echoing around the Billy Jean King Stadium.
Rogers arrived at match point number one, on Cepede Royg’s serve. Nothing. Then Rogers held, moving her to match point on her serve. And with that stunning backhand down-the-line winner, she dropped her racquet and screamed. The battle was won. She was on top of the mountain of green clay.
“I think we both had a great level in the tiebreak. We had great points, some long points,“ Rogers said. “It just came to that one awkward shot I hit into the wind then I was able to get the pass down the line.”
Rogers’ next opponent is top-seeded Madison Keys and the 2015 runner-up here on Daniel Island.
“Yeah, Miss Madison,” Shelby said. They’ve met once five years ago. It was on green clay, which Rogers grew up on. “It was a super windy, kind of misty day. We both played terribly. Hopefully tomorrow will be a little better quality.”