Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Sports

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 j[email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

   
Comments
Rays bring Jonny Venters back to majors

Rays bring Jonny Venters back to majors

UPDATE, 5:34: Venters, understandably, was humbled and happy to make it back. "It's hard to put into words how I'm feeling," he said. "It's been an emotional day."Venters was in uniform in the Durham clubhouse during rain delay when he got called in ...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Report: Former ‘Bama starting QB to visit USF

Report: Former ‘Bama starting QB to visit USF

USF's quarterback derby could have a prominent 11th-hour entrant.Former Alabama QB Blake Barnett, the Crimson Tide's opening day starter in 2016 who transferred to Arizona State shortly thereafter, is leaving Tempe as a grad transfer, several media o...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Art of the block: Get in the way of the puck. Expect pain.

Art of the block: Get in the way of the puck. Expect pain.

BRANDON — The welts and the bruises and — yes, even the broken bones — they are the badges given this time of year to the hearty souls who, in hockey vernacular, sacrifice the body.They are awarded to the guys who knock aside wrist ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
For starters: Rays at Orioles, weather permitting (again)

For starters: Rays at Orioles, weather permitting (again)

The Rays and Orioles are going to try again to play tonight, though the tarp was on the field this afternoon and a light rain falling with heavier precipitation expected later.The Rays, who called up veteran reliever Jonny Venters this afternoon, are...
Updated: 6 hours ago
NFL draft: How the Bucs can grab hold of the NFC South

NFL draft: How the Bucs can grab hold of the NFC South

TAMPA — From the department of the weird, also known as Bucs marketing genius — also known as if it bombs, we can blame Ed Glazer — the Bucs will use a … parrot to announce their fourth-round pick in the NFL Draft, which kicks...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Q&A with Bucs tackle Donovan Smith: On bowling, charity work, team expectations

Q&A with Bucs tackle Donovan Smith: On bowling, charity work, team expectations

Bucs tackle Donovan Smith has a big season ahead, going into a contract year as part of a reshuffled offensive line. Still only 24, he has started all 48 games in his three NFL seasons, and has made it a priority in the offseason to be more active in...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Springstead baseball isn’t easing into districts

Springstead baseball isn’t easing into districts

SPRING HILL — With the high school baseball regular season ending this week, some teams like to dial down their schedule in preparation for district play.Springstead is more than happy to be doing the opposite. With two games against HomeTeam t...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Bucs draft scenarios: Would this guy be their lucky pick at No. 7?

Bucs draft scenarios: Would this guy be their lucky pick at No. 7?

TAMPA – This is the Rubiks Cube of NFL drafts. It can be twisted and turned it in any direction. Not many know how everything will line up.For the Bucs, the puzzle is simple.  Since they have the No. 7 overall pick, they need four quarterb...
Updated: 9 hours ago
A bittersweet farewell for Rams baseball

A bittersweet farewell for Rams baseball

NEW PORT RICHEY — This week alone, Larry Beets has bid farewell to two longtime homes.He and wife Donna, who are transitioning to a villa at Tampa Bay Golf & Country Club, are completing the sale of the Hudson house they shared for nearly a hal...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Mock draft consensus: Who the experts have Bucs taking at No. 7

Mock draft consensus: Who the experts have Bucs taking at No. 7

We've linked to a lot of mock drafts over the last four months.We went back and assembled mocks from 40 different NFL writers we've linked to — this isn't the most recent for some of these who are in Mock 9.0 mode, but it's meant as an unscient...
Updated: 10 hours ago