Tennis and tears: Shelby Rogers' emotional run to Paris quarters
PARIS -- The ball bounced waist-high, and even in real time, it appeared that American underdog Shelby Rogers did something incredulous that made you think, "She didn't really just do that, did she?" Then the slow-motion TV replay confirmed it: Rogers actually started to smile even before she finished pulling back her racket and blasting a two-handed backhand winner down the right side of the empty patch of court that Irina-Camelia Begu had left open.
It was as if Rogers -- the 108th-ranked player in the world -- knew she wasn't going to miss this chance to pull off her fourth straight upset at the French Open and reach her first career Grand Slam quarterfinal appearance by toppling yet another seeded foe. She was right.
The 23-year-old Charleston, South Carolina, native became the unlikely darling of the tournament Sunday after her 6-3, 6-4 over the 28th-ranked Begu, a Romanian who resides 80 spots higher than her in the world rankings.
"I keep reminding myself to play one point at a time, and that this is just another tennis match, but that's getting a little bit harder to do as the rounds get farther," Rogers said with a laugh. "I'm definitely outside of my comfort zone already. I keep telling myself, 'You belong here, you belong here. ... Play your game.'"
In the space of seven days at Roland Garros, Rogers has been transformed from the next-to-last player into the main draw to a giant-killer who has now taken out Begu and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova before her.
It's a far cry from just a year ago when Rogers was taken off the court in a wheelchair at a grass-court tournament in Birmingham, England, with an MCL injury. Her knee didn't require surgery, but it contributed to her suffering through a 2015 season in which she lost in the first round of 17 tournaments (some of them qualifiers).
Now American tennis legends Billie Jean King, Chris Evert and Tracy Austin are tweeting congratulations to Rogers after her wins. She's the first American woman not named Williams to make the French Open quarterfinals since Lindsay Davenport did it in 2005.
Rogers plays fourth-seeded Garbine Muguruza of Spain next, and regardless of what happens in that match, Roger has already made $326,722.93 in prize money in this tournament -- or nearly half as much as she earned her first six years on tour.
"I'm just trying to enjoy every second of it," Rogers quipped.
It's just not always easy to tell with Rogers, given her penchant for bursting into tears after each win. Asked if she's a "tear machine" all the time, she laughed Sunday and said, "One hundred percent."
"Sad, happy, hungry, reading a book, watching a movie -- they flow very easily," Rogers said. "And those little puppy commercials [like] 'Adopt a puppy?' No. Change the channel. Can't do it."
Rogers' postmatch tears after upsetting Begu only endeared her to the crowd at Suzanne Lenglen more. The crowd began rhythmically clapping and chanting for her when she kept choking up so much during her on-court interview that Marion Bartoli, a former French player-turned-TV commentator, finally stopped, laughed, then gave Rogers a hug and a tissue before continuing.
"They love you here," Bartoli told Rogers, pointing to the crowd.
Why not? Rogers won the match by outdoing Begu in many of the long groundstroke rallies they played. She stayed composed when it was easy to -- and when it was not. She was rock-solid again in her service games. It didn't hurt that Begu had endured a difficult march through the tournament even before facing her.
The Romanian was stretched to the three-set limit in all three of her previous matches. Her 3-hour, 48-minute second-round match that she barely survived against American Coco Vandeweghe was the longest match on the WTA Tour this year.
But Rogers earned this win with some slick shot-making, too. The best example came late in the second set when Begu hit a cross-court forehand and relaxed a bit, thinking the point was over -- only to look startled when she saw Rogers racing forward, lunging and snapping off a two-handed backhand on the run that curled around the net post and snapped down into the open court for another winner.
Begu was done. Rogers was moving on.
She was asked how it feels to finally get this far in a major after everything she's been through?
"Better than I thought it would," she sniffled. Then laughed.