LEXINGTON, KY, USA -- It came down to the wire, but Shelby Rogers earned a thunderous upset at the Top Seed Open presented by Bluegrass Orthopaedics on Friday, ousting top seed Serena Williams 1-6, 6-4, 7-6(5) in an all-American affair to claim a spot in the semifinals.
In her first-ever meeting with Williams, Rogers fought back from a set down to grab the win after a hard-hitting two hours and seven minutes of play, collecting her third career victory over a Top 10 player in the process.
"It was important for me going onto the court thinking I could win that match, and knowing I could take care of my service games," Rogers said, during her post-match press conference. "Because [Williams] has probably the best serve of all time, and when she wants to, she can win a point on her serve."
"I just tried to control what I could control, and that’s mostly my service games, and then if I had an opportunity, I tried to capitalize. I think the few that I did have today, I was able to do that."
The stunning result continues a sterling run this week for the the former Top 50 player and 2016 Roland Garros quarterfinalist, who is currently ranked WTA World No.116. Rogers missed over a year of action in 2018 and 2019 due to knee surgery, and was unranked at one point in 2019.
"Six months after [I had] surgery, I didn’t think I was going to be able to play again, ever," said Rogers. "I’m pretty thankful to gain that perspective after going through that, and be grateful to be on the court competing again."
Rogers shook off a dominant first set by Williams to finish the match with nearly identical efficacy on her first and second serves, and had five aces to Williams's three. Now into the fourth WTA semifinal of her career, Rogers is a win away from her second career WTA singles final, after runner-up finishes at 2014 Bad Gastein and 2016 Rio de Janeiro.
"I changed the way I was playing a little bit in the second and third [sets]," said Rogers. "I was missing too much in the first, going for too much. I just tried to, honestly, make balls in the second. I don’t think anybody’s really playing their best tennis right now, so it’s just really finding a way to win, get one more ball back in."
Williams survived three-set tussles against Bernarda Pera and her sister Venus in her first two matches this week, but she was unable to repeat the feat against Rogers. It was Williams's first loss to a player ranked outside the Top 100 since then-World No.128 Virginie Razzano upset her in the first round of 2012 Roland Garros.
Rogers will now face Switzerland’s Jil Teichmann in the final four. Teichmann, who won her first two WTA singles titles last year on the clay courts of Prague and Palermo, reached the semifinals of a WTA hardcourt event for the first time after defeating Catherine Bellis earlier on Friday, 6-2, 6-4.
A three-hour rain delay postponed the start of the match, but Williams was initially unfazed by the uncertain schedule, as she fired a forehand winner to claim the first service break of the match and grab a 2-0 lead.
Rogers knocked off a winner from that side as well to get on the scoreboard at 3-1, but Williams eased through the rest of the opening frame from there. At 3-1, the top seed was pushed to deuce but used two more fierce forehands to tough out the hold, and then cracked a series of powerful returns in the subsequent game to earn a second break for 5-1.
Serving for the set, Williams did not squander her commanding lead, starting the game with an ace, and converting her first set point with another solid serve that was returned wide. In the opener, Williams won 10 of her 13 first-service points, never faced a break point, and won all of the six points where Rogers was forced to hit a second serve.
Rogers, though, turned the tables in the second set, cutting down on her unforced errors to hang with Williams, and neither player was troubled on serve through 4-4. After she lost over half of her total service points in the opening frame, it represented a big turnaround for the underdog.
Another routine service hold by Rogers for 5-4 ended up reaping her rewards in the next game, as a netted backhand by Williams gave the unseeded player her first two break points of the match, which doubled as set points.
An ace by Williams and a missed return by Rogers drew the game back to deuce, but an excellent passing winner by Rogers gave her a third chance to steal the set. That time, Rogers got the break after a forehand miscue by the top seed, and Rogers had clawed her way to one set apiece.
Rogers continued her momentum as the final set kicked off, holding at love to start the decider, then using an overpowering return to reach break point in the very next game. Williams, however, steeled herself to eke out the hold, slamming an ace in the final point as a rigorous third set got underway.
There were no more break points in the remainder of the set, as Rogers and Williams matched each other shot for shot. A winning lob by Rogers gave her a 6-5 lead, but typically superb serving by Williams helped her prolong the tilt and garner a hold for 6-6, queuing up the pivotal tiebreak.
Williams built an initial 3-1 lead in the breaker before Rogers claimed four straight points to go ahead 5-3. A Williams forehand winner kept her in the hunt at 5-4, but after a netted backhand by the WTA World No.9, Rogers reached double match point.
Rogers missed a service return on her first chance, but on the second, it was Williams who fired the return long, and Rogers had wrapped up an incredible upset win.