Roger This – Rogers Battles Her Way to First Final Since 2016

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Photo by Harjanto Sumali

Bill Simons

San Jose

Shelby Rogers has back-to-back first names. And in San Jose she’s had back-to-back-to-back wins. In the first round, she dismissed the 2019 US Open champion, Bianca Andreescu. Then, on the campus of the San Jose Spartans, she subdued the tennis world’s foremost Spartan. Greek Maria Sakkari, the 2018 winner, is the No. 3 player in the world and was the No. 1 seed in the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic.

Then Shelby punched out her friend and Wimbledon quarterfinalist Amanda Anisimova, who did better than any other American woman at the All England Club.

Americans filled 11 of the 28 slots in San Jose. But South Carolinian Rogers was the only Yankee left in a tournament that began with four of the top ten players and a galaxy of star power: Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff, and Ons Jabeur. But as the elite players and the big names fell, Shelby sprinted to the semis, where she beat Russian Veronika Kudermetova 6-4, 6-4 to reach her first final since 2016. 

Of course, Rogers isn’t the only Roger to take Silicon Valley by storm. Four years ago, a Roger named Federer drew over 17,000 fans to a fundraiser at a San Jose arena up the road. In her four matches, Shelby hasn’t attracted half that total. But Rogers isn’t Roger – who is? Shelby has 20 less Slams than the Swiss – the furthest she’s gotten in a major is the quarterfinals. And she’s hardly an international icon, adored on every continentbut the fans in San Jose sure love her. “C’mon, Shelby!” has seemed like a mantra all week. Tennis nerds know that the 29-year-old came back from a career-threatening knee injury in 2018.

And today was a little bit of a payback. Russian-born women have been on a tear. Elina Rybakina won Wimbledon, and Kudermetova, who was born in Kazan, Russia, was the highest seed left in the top half of the draw. Plus, the only WTA tournament the 25-year-old has ever won was in, of all places, Charleston, Shelby’s hometown.

Today Rogers came out slugging. She broke in the first game and confidently held her serve to quickly wrap up the first set 6-4. Then Kudermetova drew on the Novak Djokovic playbook. (Deep into Wimbledon this year, the Serb went off court and then scored an epic comeback against Jannik Sinner. He later said the key was his toilet break).

Kudermetova tried to step in, to be more aggressive. Twice she broke Rogers and was serving to go up 5-3 in the second set. But her serve faltered and Rogers stormed back to counter the No. 19 player in the world and a gusty wind, which Shelby said, “was like going against a brick wall.” The Russian offered faint praise of her American foe, saying Shelby was “solid and without mistakes.”

But that was good enough for Shelby’s elated fans. She played with composure and broke Veronika three times in the second set to win. She hasn’t lost a set all week.

In the final, Shelby will play another Russian, Daria Kasatkina, the No. 7 seed. “The last time we played she kicked my butt,” said Shelby. Rogers admitted she’d played terribly in practice before San Jose. But somehow she came in with a “calm and gracious attitude.” Shelby, who lost in the first round of Wimbledon, said she’s prevailed in San Jose because, after leaving Wimbledon, she worked hard in the gym and on court, checking off all the boxes.

And if she wins Sunday, the No. 45 player in the world will check off some more boxes. She and Danielle Collins will become the first Americans to win back-to-back Bay Area titles since Serena Williams did so in 2011 and 2012.

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