One of my favorite things about covering smaller tournaments is getting one-on-one time with players that I don’t know very well. Last year at the Citi Open I got to talk with Heather Watson and Alexandra Mueller, and this year I had my eyes on Shelby Rogers, the 21-year-old American who seemingly came from nowhere to make the Bad Gastein final earlier this month. (She came through qualies and then took out Carla Suarez Navarro, Camila Giorgi, and Sara Errani. That’s pretty serious.)
Shelby, now ranked No. 121, had a fantastic first-round win 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 over Alize Cornet, but unfortunately I talked to her after her much-less-impressive 6-2, 6-2 loss to Marina Erakovic. Still, she was nice enough to give me 10 minutes of her time anyway, which says a lot.
Overall I found her down-to-earth, well spoken, and extremely genuine during our talk, and I hope to be seeing more of her on the WTA Tour this summer.
Here’s what I learned from my quick chat with the rising star:
1. She wants to stay calm and positive.
Shelby said that the key to her recent success was her mental improvement.
I’m working on my mindset. It is what it is, if you lose points it’s okay. It still is a game and you have to enjoy it. That’s what I want to do, so I’ve been doing that and I want to keep it up. Take it one match at a time.
After her tough loss to Erakovic, she certainly practiced what she preached. I was trying to feel out her attitude at the beginning of the interview and asked her how she was feeling after the match. “Good,” she said with a smile.
I mean, she played well. I didn’t play so well today, but she played a clean match and didn’t give me much.
2. Her run at Bad Gastein was full of new experiences.
It was incredible, my first quarterfinal, semifinal…it was a week of many firsts for me. It just gave me a lot of confidence and belief in myself, just to build off of. I know I can play with the top girls in the world. It was a really special experience and a really incredible place as well, so hopefully plenty more to come.
3. She loves altitude, red clay, dressing up in lederhosen, and basically everything about Austria.
I’ve always liked playing in altitude. I like red clay as well, so, that’s two things in my favor there. I was just happy, relaxed, and when I have a good time off the court I play well. So [Bad Gastein] was just a really cool place—getting dressed up [in the traditional garb], the mountains, beautiful waterfalls everywhere. It was hard to be unhappy there.
4. However, she almost didn’t even go to Bad Gastein this year!
I arrived the night before my match actually, I didn’t even practice before my first round, I was in qualies there. I was actually debating whether to go or not, I was kind-of not going to go for a week there, but decided to go and adapt, and I had a good run.
(That’s an understatement. Good choice, Shelby!)
5. Seriously, you guys. She’s a clay-court girl.
My best results have been in red clay. I grew up on the green clay [in Charleston], it just brings a different aspect to the game. There’s a little more versatility, the ball bouncers a little higher, the kick serves work well. It’s just fun, you know. There are longer points, and a little more strategy is involved.
6. She didn’t go to college and she doesn’t regret it.
Never regretted it. I just felt that I could always go back to school, I couldn’t always play on tour. Right now I’m enjoying the tour.
7. She’s not with the USTA anymore.
I just moved back home, but I’m still in touch with [the USTA]. They’re supportive in other ways, they’re so positive all the time. I’m back home now in Charleston working with Bryan Minton. He was my first coach when I was seven, before I moved to Boca.
The USTA helped me so much over the past four years. This is just kind-of the next step, you know. We have such a great relationship, and it’s just something that’s really positive for me, being back home with my family and friends. It’s a great atmosphere, and I really love Charleston as well.
Shelby (I love that name!) is off to Montreal now, where she’ll play in qualies. Her big goal this year is to break into the Top 100, and to just keep doing what she’s doing–she doesn’t want to get a big head just because she’s won a few matches.
After talking with her for a short while, it’s certainly hard to see that happening.