NEW YORK, NY, USA - American Shelby Rogers surged into the third round of the US Open for the first time in three years, upsetting No.11 seed Elena Rybakina, 7-5, 6-1.
Rogers, who stunned 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams two weeks ago at the Top Seed Open presented by Bluegrass Orthopaedics, shook off an opening set surge from the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships runner-up to ease past the Kazakh in 86 minutes on Court 6.
"It definitely felt good to get that one in two sets," Rogers said after the match. "The first set, I came out playing pretty cleanly, executing the game plan I had very well, and was serving well. Things got dicey when she started playing better, playing more aggressive and making her shots. I just kept telling myself, 'One more point, keep making balls,' and thankfully got through the first set. I really buckled down in the second because I really didn't want that to happen again!"
The 27-year-old missed nearly all of the 2018 season due to a knee injury, returning to action last spring at her home tournament in Charleston, the Volvo Car Open. She showed signs of the form that once took her into the 2016 Roland Garros quarterfinals to start this season, pushing eventual Australian Open runner-up Garbiñe Muguruza to three sets in Melbourne and winning an 100K ITF Pro Circuit title in Midland.
"During quarantine, I was able to play a lot of practice matches and stay really competitive. There were a lot of girls in Florida that I could practice with in a safe environment, so I was very fortunate and give a lot of credit to that."
Rogers picked up more momentum after the tour resumed following the COVID-19 lockdown, surviving a third-set tie-break against Williams to reach the semifinals in Lexington and dropped just four games to kick off her US Open campaign against Irina Khromacheva.
"I've lost count of how many days I've been here, and Lexington was a similar situation, along with a few exhibitions I played in quarantine. At this point, I know what to expect, waking up to see hotel, site and that's it. I'm just happy to be back and able to compete. It's what you make of it, so it's all perspective. Either I'm sitting at home, or having the chance to play tennis again."
Rybakina, by contrast, enjoyed a scintillating start to the 2020 season, winning her second career WTA title at the Hobart International and reaching finals at the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy and in Dubai, where she fought Simona Halep to a final set tie-break in the championship match.
Though she was similarly imperious in her first round against Katarina Zavatska, she suffered a slow start against Rogers, who raced out to a 5-2 lead in the opening set. Looking to steady herself, the Kazakh tightened up her game and saved a set point on her serve to level proceedings at five games apiece.
Undaunted, Rogers, who fell in the first round of US Open qualifying last year, rolled through seven of the next eight points to sweep the set and take another big lead in the second, serving for the match at 5-1.
"At 2-1 in the second set, it started drizzling a little and I thought, 'No, this cannot be happening. Get the break right here and keep this momentum.' There may have been more urgency there in the second set because I saw the clouds coming!"
Rybakina made a brave last stand, saving five match points - the fifth with a swinging forehand winner - in a marathon last game in which she also held two break points of her own. Rogers was ultimately unmoved, and secured victory on her sixth match point.
In all, she struck 18 winners to 20 unforced errors, and converted four of eight break point opportunities while winning 70% of points behind her first serve. Rybakina will ultimately rue her one of four break point conversion rate, ending the match with 34 errors to 17 winners.
Up next for the unseeded American is either countrywoman Madison Brengle or No.19 seed Dayana Yastremska, who reached her first Premier final at the Adelaide International back in January.
"One's an American, always a challenge, and we've played a couple times before. We're pretty good friend, so that's never easy. Both of those players will probably enjoy the speed of the court. I haven't played Yastremska much, but she's one to watch, has a lot of power and plays really aggressively. I know she had a tough first round, but either opponent, I'll be ready for a battle."