As Shelby Rogers swatted a backhand winner to defeat Evgeniya Rodina, 6-4, 6-2, in a first-round match at the Volvo Car Open, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Charleston native had just won a final. She nearly fell to her knees, overcome by the moment. She blew kisses to the crowd and raised her arms in triumph. In her only futile effort of the day, she covered her face with her hands to try and hold back a stream of tears.
But the 26-year-old may have done something more difficult than win a title: she stared the end of her tennis career in the face, and she won—period.
"I didn't know I could feel this many emotions at one time," Rogers told Tennis Channel's Steve Weissman after it was over. "Obviously I love the sport so much. It's just been a long road."
No April fools jokes! ????This actually happened. Thank you to everyone that supported me and helped me get to this moment. I’m forever grateful. So happy to be back! ????Step 1 of many.... #VolvoCarOpen2019 #Charleston https://t.co/UpblL6ZBjO— Shelby Rogers (@Shelby_Rogers_) April 1, 2019
After a year in which she reached a career-high ranking of No. 48, Rogers began her 2018 season with a competitive three-set loss to 28th-seeded Mirjana Lucic-Baroni at the Australian Open. Her season would end one match later, at Indian Wells, when Rogers felt something painful in her knee while playing Caroline Dolehide. The cartilage in the knee had ruptured. Physical therapy led to surgery which led to rehab—which led Rogers to wondering if her life's work had come to a brutally swift end.
"There was a couple months where I wasn't sure it was going to happen," said Rogers at the Tennis Channel desk, where she worked a year ago when it became clear that she couldn't compete in her hometown tournament. "Just being back on the court and having the opportunity to compete is a win for me."
Rogers did more than just compete on Monday. With years of experience on the local Har-Tru, the 5'9" baseliner was able to ease into her comeback match. But soon, Rogers' aggressive tactics—a calling card of her 6-3, 6-1 win over fourth-ranked Simona Halep in the first round of the 2017 Australian Open—took over. She broke open the first set after splitting the first eight games with Rodina, and she added an insurance break at 4-2 in the second set with a down-the-line forehand blast.
After firing one more winner to win the match, the waterworks came, a result of so much hard work.
"I did the right things along the way," said Rogers. "The training paid off. It's so refreshing, and just gives me a lot of confidence moving forward."
Rogers will need to be confident, and translate that confidence into more winning points, if her already-successful run is to continue. Former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, a 6-1, 6-4 winner over Johanna Larsson on Monday, awaits Rogers in the second round.
But that challenge is for another day. This was Rogers' day, in Charleston, South Carolina.
"I wouldn't want to do it in any other place," she said, sounding like a first-round champion.