Mental toughness key to Shelby Rogers' improved game

Prim Siripipat talks to Shelby Rogers about how important the mental side of the game is to tennis players.

As part of a series looking at the mind, body and soul of an athlete, ESPN's Prim Siripipat will speak to various tennis players throughout Wimbledon.

LONDON -- Last month, 23-year-old American Shelby Rogers knocked off three seeded players en route to her first quarterfinal appearance at the French Open. It was the highlight of her career for a player who previously never made it past the third round of any major.

The transition from clay to grass proved to be too tough for Rogers, however. On Monday, she suffered an opening-round loss at Wimbledon to former finalist Sabine Lisicki.

Despite the early exit, Rogers has seen her ranking skyrocket from No. 108 to No. 62, an accomplishment she attributes to self-belief.

"There was a lot to deal with, because there's some new external expectations," her coach, Marc Lucero, told espnW.com Monday. "Have her expectations changed on the inside? I'm not sure if they've changed too much on the inside because if you don't believe you're capable of great things, you usually don't get to a level like this."

Rogers elaborated on her improved mental toughness and how she copes with the pressure of playing professional tennis.

espnW: In your definition, what is mental toughness?

Rogers: Umm ... the most important thing in tennis (laughs).

espnW: Why is that?

Rogers: At this level, everyone can play. Everyone can hit the ball. We've hit a million balls in our lifetime, and it's the big points, the little points, that one shot, the break point that you make. ... It comes down to the mental toughness every single match.

espnW: Do you still get nervous?

Rogers: Of course. Before every match.

espnW: Every single match?

Rogers: Every single match. But I think it helps me prepare. Whether it's for one minute or 10 minutes, I get a little bit nervous, but then I start warming up, get moving, start thinking about my game plan and I calm down. If I'm not nervous, something's wrong.

espnW: Do you do any visualization?

Rogers: Absolutely. Before every match in the locker room, I take a little quiet time and kind of plan out what I want to do and see myself in that situation -- [like] at the French Open specifically at the stadium. I just kind of visualize myself there so it's not too overwhelming when I take that first step out on the court.

espnW: If you had any advice to young athletes out there in terms of mental toughness, what would it be?

Rogers: I would say the belief is most important. Believing that you can play with anyone. Had I done that a little sooner, I think it would have been more helpful [laughs].

espnW: So what happens if you don't believe in yourself?

Rogers: Everybody's [belief] does. Absolutely. It's very hard to keep that belief all the time. If it fluctuates, then you don't trust yourself as much. You miss those short balls. You miss that break point. Then you start thinking. And then it's just this disaster that happens on court.

Prim Siripipat joined ESPN as an anchor in 2011 after spending three years in Miami covering the Dolphins, Heat and Marlins. She has appeared on SportsCenter, First Take, NBA Tonight, as well as ESPN Radio. She played tennis at Duke University and, shortly after, began a career in broadcasting in Raleigh, North Carolina. Follow her on Twitter @ESPNPrim.

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