America’s latest sports hero is tearing up the competition at the French Open. South Carolina native Shelby Rogers defeated Petra Kvitova on May 27 to advance to the fourth round of the celebrated competition in Roland Garros. When Rogers was asked by USA Today if she could compete with Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon winner, Rogers replied, “I have to think that, don’t I? Otherwise, I’m not a contender. I think I do a lot of things really well. Any given day you can beat anyone. It’s exciting.”
Following her victories in France, Rogers will be expected to move back into the top 100 players in the world.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Legend Jennifer Capriati Kissed Her on the Cheek When Rogers Was 8; Although Steffi Graff Is Her Tennis Hero
In an extensive feature with USA Today prior to her victory over Kvitova, Rogers talked about being a ball girl at a WTA tournament, the Family Circle Cup, in Charleston in 2001 when she was eight. At the event, Rogers recalls Jennifer Capriati kissing her on the cheek. Rogers says of that, “Jennifer Capriati kissed me on the cheek and I never wanted to wash my face again.” While of another legend, Rogers says, “I was eight. I remember Venus (Williams) being so nice.”
Although her tennis idol remains Steffi Graf. In terms of those still playing, Rogers told USA Today of her reverence for Roger Federer, “It’s amazing what he’s done… I could watch him every day. I’m sad he’s not here. But he’ll be back soon.”
2. She’s a Die Hard Fan of the Tampa Bay Lightning
Rogers’ win over Kvitova should soften the blow of her beloved Tampa Bay Lightning being eliminated from the Stanley Cup reckoning following a heartbreaking defeat against the Pittsburgh Pirates. On both her Twitter and Instagram pages, Rogers identifies herself as a fan of the Bolts.
She told USA Today of her fandom saying, “I love hockey… I just love the aggression of it. I love the atmosphere at the games and you can get rowdy and shout. It’s a fast-paced, fun sport to watch.” Rogers adds that the games were on too late for her to watch live in France and she stressed that she would be bringing the rowdiness of hockey into the tennis world.
3. Her Stepfather Is Former All-American Football Player Jim Gabrish
Rogers’ mother is married to former Citadel, the military college of South Carolina, football All-American Jim Gabrish. According to the Citadel Football Association, Gabrish, a right tackle, was:
A two-time team captain, he earned Associated Press and United Press International First-Team All-America honors his senior year in addition to being named a Kodak First-Team All-American, First-Team All-Southern Conference, First-Team All-State and All-America by The Football News.
He went on to play pro ball for the 49ers, Cleveland Browns and the Miami Dolphins. On his LinkedIn page, it says that Gabrish now runs an auto body shop in South Carolina.
4. Since Turning Pro in 2009, Rogers Has Suffered a String of Injury Problems
Rogers decided to forego college and turned pro in 2009. Since then, she has struggled with MCL and back problems. Rogers had moved from her native South Carolina to train full time at the WTA facility in Boca Raton, Florida, after high school. In 2014, she switched it up again, moving her base to California. Although she had already been training on-and-off out west. Rogers told the Charleston Post and Courier about her new partnership with coach Marc Lucero in 2011 saying:
I feel like I have a clear idea of my game and what I need to do. I spent a lot of time over the last year developing that. Every player has an identity on court, and you have to believe in that and trust it — ‘This is my game, and this is what I’m going to do to win.’
During her high school years, Rogers was homeschooled so that she could focus on her tennis.
Andrea Petkovic, the Bosnian tennis star, paid tribute to Rogers in 2011 saying, “She’s such a dangerous player. She hits the ball well and so clean, it’s very difficult to play against her. She’s improved so much already, and she’ll improve even more. She’ll go far.”
5. In Response to the June 2015 Church Shooting in Charleston, Rogers Had the Name of Her Hometown Etched on Her Sneakers
In the summer of 2015, just before Rogers took to the court at Wimbledon, nine people were shot dead inside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
The suspect in the crime, 22-year-old Dylan Roof, was alleged to have wanted to start a race war, beginning at the historically black church.
Meanwhile in England, where Rogers was gearing up for the biggest tournament of them all, she had the word “Charleston” etched into her sneakers. She told ESPN about this move saying:
That’s the thing to stress, the love part and the unity and how everybody is supporting each other and being there for each other in a really tough time.
Hopefully, I can go back and help [raise] donations. It’s tough being so far away. All I can do is send up my prayers and watch my city continue to be strong.
Rogers also said:
The shooter had a quote. That he wanted to start this hateful thing and to conquer that with the exact opposite, to conquer that with love, to not let the negative win, is really special.
While her stepfather told ESPN that he believed that Charleston was a role model of a city for showing America how everybody could come together.