By Shelley Hill Young
Shelby Rogers’ year isn’t going as planned.
The 25-year-old tennis pro from Mount Pleasant started 2017 ranked 48th, after making it to her first grand slam quarterfinals at the 2016 French Open. She made it to the quarterfinals on her home court at the Volvo Car Open for the first time last April, and put together a streak of five first-round wins, ending the year ranked 59th.
But Shelby Rogers lost in the first round in the Australian Open in January and injured her right arm during the match. She spent about three weeks rehabbing in Florida before returning to the court for the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, in March, where she lost in the first round and injured her knee.
Shelby announced on March 21 that her injury would prevent her from returning to her home court for this year’s Volvo Car Open, the largest women’s-only tournament in North America.
“It has been a very tough year for me and it breaks my heart I will not be able to compete in my favorite tournament,” she said in a statement. “I absolutely love these fans and the whole city has been supportive of me since the beginning of my career. As difficult as it is, I know this is the right choice in order for my body to heal and be ready to play again. I have so many great memories here and I am looking forward to coming back to play next year.”
When we spoke with Shelby in early March before her match at Indian Wells, she talked about the rehab and healing process for her arm injury. “The physical part is very important, but I know that my body is going to heal … if I do the right exercises.” She says she also works on mental and emotional toughness in addition to physical therapy. “You have to be very aware of where your thoughts are and stay very positive,” says Shelby. She writes down any negative thoughts in her journal and strives to reinforce the positive thoughts that keep her mentally sharp. “It’s pretty helpful.”
Shelby also turns to her older sister for support. It was, after all, her older sister who got her out onto the tennis court when Shelby was just 4 years old. Her sister, Sabra, was taking tennis lessons, so of course Shelby wanted to follow. “I wanted to be just like her,” Shelby says. “I did everything she did.”
“Now, she helps me with the mental side a little bit,” Shelby says of her sister, who played tennis at Emory University. “She’s a big reason for why I’ve been so successful, for sure. It can be a very lonely and individual sport. … We talk on the phone a lot. She was a very competitive player herself. Anything I go to her with, she totally gets it.”
Shelby first walked onto the then-Family Cup Circle Tennis Center when she was 7 years old. She was a ball girl at the Family Circle Cup and handed flowers to champion Jennifer Capriati, who gave Shelby a kiss on the cheek. “First, I never wanted to wash my face again,” she says she thought to herself. “Two, I really want to play on this court myself… I dreamt about it; I wrote about it; I told everyone about it.”
And she’s trained for it.
Part of what motivates Shelby to work so hard, she says, is the opportunity to encourage other girls.
When a little girl says, “Shelby, I want to be just like you when I grow up, that’s really, really cool,” she says. “I want to inspire other people to go after their dreams, to have lofty goals.”
“That’s a big reason why I play. I obviously love winning. What drives me is seeing those kids in the stands. … That really gets you going; that really puts a spark in you.”
Shelby still has big dreams of her own. She would love to get back into the top 50, would love to win a title.
“I’m super proud of what I’ve accomplished so far, but I know I can do more,” she says. “That’s why I keep working hard and training.”