Thursday, November 23, 2017
Sports

Fed Cup: Triumphant return to Saddlebrook for Shelby Rogers

RECOMMENDED READING


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 jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

   
Comments

Ugly injury sidelines Mississippi State QB

STARKVILLE, Miss. — Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald sustained a gruesome right ankle injury in the first quarter that forced him to leave Thursday’s game against Mississippi. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Fitzgerald was running the ball when ...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Sports in brief

SoccerStudy to look into soccer players and brain disease LONDON — A major study into whether soccer players are at risk of degenerative brain disease was commissioned Thursday amid concerns that the sport’s authorities in England haven’t done enough...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Captain’s Corner: Switching to bottom fishing for grouper, snapper

With water temperatures falling, offshore anglers soon will have less species to target. Migratory species such as cobia, kingfish and Spanish mackerel will be migrating south for the winter. Most offshore captains will switch to bottom fishing for g...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Jon Mott wins record fifth Times Turkey Trot 10K

Jon Mott wins record fifth Times Turkey Trot 10K

By BOB PUTNAMCLEARWATER — The Tampa Bay Times Turkey Trot has long been a fixture on Jon Mott’s sporting calendar. Not even a 103-degree fever Tuesday could keep him away from the event, in its 39th year. Mott, a record four-time 10k champion, added ...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Friday’s sports on TV/radio

TODAYCollege basketballMissouri vs. St. John’s11 a.m.ESPNewsArkansas State at USFnoon820-AMVillanova vs. Northern IowanoonESPN2Wooden Legacy: St. Mary’s (Calif.) vs. Washington State1:30 p.m.ESPNewsTennessee vs. N.C. State2:30 p.m.ESPN2PK80: Portland...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Updated: 3 hours ago
Bucs players, coaches say they cherish getting game balls for special feats

Bucs players, coaches say they cherish getting game balls for special feats

TAMPA — In the jubilant moments after a Bucs win, Dirk Koetter will sometimes ask for a game-used ball from his equipment staff, hold it high in the locker room and present it to the player who was most crucial to the victory.NFL players can ask for ...
Updated: 3 hours ago

Latest lineNBAFavorite Line O/U Underdog Portland 3½ (211) at BROOK New York 2 (207½) at ATL at BOS 8½ (208) Orlando at O.C. 8 (204) Detroit at MINN 4 (207½) Miami Toronto 1½ (216½) at IND at CLEVE OFF (OFF) Char. at DEN 6 (208½) Mem. N.O. 6 (229) at...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Chargers pick off Cowboys

Chargers pick off Cowboys

ARLINGTON, Texas — Philip Rivers and the Chargers are on the move. Dak Prescott and the Cowboys are fading fast. Rivers threw for 434 yards and three touchdowns in his first Thanksgiving game in his 14th season and the Chargers beat the fading Cowboy...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Don’t forget Ryan Callahan in Lightning’s resurgence

Don’t forget Ryan Callahan in Lightning’s resurgence

WASHINGTON — Much has been made about the impact on the Lightning of a healthy C Steven Stamkos, who missed most of last season after knee surgery.But don’t forget about RW Ryan Callahan, 32, who is looking like his old self after hip problems plague...
Updated: 3 hours ago