CHARLESTON, SC, USA - Charleston native Shelby Rogers completed an emotional return to WTA action on Monday, defeating Evgeniya Rodina in two sets to claim her first round win at her home tournament.
It was Rogers’ first match in over a year after needing surgery to treat a knee injury she sustained at the 2018 BNP Paribas Open that left her sidelined for almost 13 months.
“I don’t remember the last time I cried after winning a first set. It’s kind of embarrassing to be honest!” Rogers laughed in her post-match press conference. “It was a great moment, I enjoyed every second of it - even when I got broken. That’s part of it.
“It’s all those feelings I missed so much: the adrenaline, the nerves, the excitement, everything. You can’t recreate that outside of the arena.”
It was a far cry from the emotions of her last match, a three-set loss against Caroline Dolehide, 3-6, 7-6(6), 6-3 in the first round of Indian Wells, where she first felt the injury - the first major injury of her tennis career.
“I just remember being on court and knowing something was very wrong, but not wanting to leave the court,” Rogers recalled, welling up at the memory. “I probably should have retired from that match, but I think I just knew what was coming.
“I came off the court and I went to a little patio area, and when my coach and my trainer came over I said, ‘I don’t want to go see the doctor right now. I know it’s bad. I don’t want to hear it, I don’t want to do this.’ That moment was really hard.”
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After trying several non-surgical treatments, Rogers decided to undergo knee surgery. In total she was out for 13 months, eight of which she spent doing rehab and recovery in Los Angeles.
The sudden off time gave Rogers a peek at ‘normal life’ - as well as the chance to take up old hobbies.
“I had a lot of downtime, but I had to learn to be okay with that,” she said. “I started playing piano again, I picked up golf when I got healthy. I tried to keep myself busy as much as I could around the hours and hours of physical therapy and recovery.
“I also did some classes online… the WTA has a program through Indiana University East, so it’s fantastic and a great opportunity for us to continue our education while we’re on the road. I’ve been majoring in psychology.”
Born in nearby Mount Pleasant, Rogers has a long history with the Volvo Car Open. She grew up playing tennis in Charleston, and even served as a ball girl at the 2001 edition of the tournament.
So when it came time to choose a venue for her comeback, Charleston was the natural choice - and she gladly accepted a wildcard despite the daunting pressure of the tournament’s Premier status.
“Ideally it might have been a smaller tournament to come back to… but I mean, it’s pretty storybook. It’s a cool thing, coming back in my hometown so it’s a really nice moment.
“You deal with what you have in the schedule and what tournaments available, and this just happened to be the right timing when I felt ready and prepared. I’m very thankful I had the opportunity to take the wildcard.”
Rogers looked like her old self against Rodina, breaking early in both sets. In the final set, she reeled off four games in a row to close out the 6-4, 6-2 win with confidence, before finally breaking down in tears.
“I was last on [at Volvo Car Stadium], so it was a long day with a lot of emotions,” she explained. “I woke up this morning super excited, honestly. Just so happy and excited for the opportunity to compete again, and then… I couldn’t have written it any better. I’m so happy to come away with the win today.”
Rogers continues her Volvo Car Open journey against No.10 seed Jelena Ostapenko on Wednesday.