What's next for Shelby Rogers?
As if three straight wins over top-40 players - two of them in the top 20 - aren't enough, Charleston's 21-year-old touring tennis professional now faces the challenge of taking on reigning Family Circle Cup champion Andrea Petkovic of Germany in Sunday's 7:30 a.m. (Charleston time) final of the WTA Tour's $250,000 red-clay tournament in Bad Gastein, Austria.
Just a qualifier, Rogers kept her amazing streak of six straight victories going in Saturday's rainy semifinals with a 7-6 (12), 6-3 win over 14th-ranked Sara Errani of Italy, the 2012 French Open runner-up.
"How about that? A Charleston final in Austria!" Family Circle general manager Bob Moran emailed as soon as the 1 hour, 46-minute match ended.
In Europe, Rogers was telling the news media: "I have to enjoy the moment . it's my first final. Another very accomplished player (20th-ranked Petkovic). I feel like the bar just keeps getting higher and higher. And she won here (Bad Gastein, 2009) before. She's a great player."
Petkovic ended the hopes of an all-American final with a 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 rain-interrupted win over 20-year-old American Grace Min in Saturday's other semifinal.
As for the Family Circle Tennis Center prodigy (Rogers initially started training under former coach Bryan Minton at the Family Circle complex) taking on a Family Circle Cup prodigy, Rogers said, "It's a dream come true to be playing in a final. I have been working so hard for it, and I'm finally here."
What does all of this mean, the difference between winning and losing on Sunday? Either Rogers or Petkovic will walk away with a check for more than $47,000 from the tournament. The loser will receive about half that amount.
Even more important for the 147th-ranked Rogers is the projection of advancing into the 80s level of the world rankings with a victory over Petkovic. Saturday's win over Errani is projected to lift Rogers above her career-high ranking of No. 109 to a spot close to the top 100.
Rogers had thoughts about not even making the trip to Austria from France. She had been scheduled to play in a $50,000 U.S. Open wild-card tournament in Sacramento, Calif., last week.
"There was a moment I wasn't going to play this tournament," Rogers said. "I was going back and forth. I am very happy I made the choice to come here. It's been an unbelievable week for me."
Saturday's Rogers-Errani semifinal match is scheduled to be shown on the Tennis Channel on Sunday at 10 a.m., followed at noon Sunday by the delayed telecast of the final.
Rogers confirmed that she still plans to play the July 21 final U.S. Open wild-card event at Lexington, Ky., where she won last summer to win a wild card into the 2013 U.S. Open. The possibility now exists that Rogers' success in Europe already has earned her a spot in the main draw of the U.S. Open.
Just as against 40th-ranked Camila Giorgi in the quarterfinals, Rogers reaped the benefits of a double fault by her opponent at break point in the first game of Saturday's match.
"It was nice to get the early break," Rogers said by email. "It took a few of the nerves away and allowed me to be aggresive and relaxed."
Rogers finished the match in similar fashion to a day earlier when she held service at love for 6-5 and then broke Giorgi at love to advance to the semifinals. This time, Rogers broke Errani for a 5-4 lead, then closed out the gritty clay-court specialist with a love service hold.
The real story of the semifinal match was the first-set tiebreaker in which Rogers fought off four set points. Rogers took the set on the 26th point of the tiebreaker on her third set point. After putting less than 50 percent of her first serves into play in her first six service games, Rogers put 10 of her 13 first serves into play in the tiebreaker.
Rogers was broken in her first service game of the second set, but bounced back for a break in the third game. After misfiring on 11 of her first 16 first serves in the second set, she put all but one of her last 12 first serves into play.
"I didn't think about that or realize," Rogers said. "I was just playing aggressive the whole time. My serve has been helping me out all week under pressure and in big points. I played to win and knew that I had to go after my shots as well as my serves to beat her (Errani)."
As for taking on Petkovic, Rogers said, "She's won a title here before . so she is very comfortable in this arena. I know she is going to bring her 'A' game. I want to continue what I've been doing all week and hopefully get one more win."
Reach James Beck at email@example.com. See his latest columns on Wimbledon and Grand Slam Tennis at www.ubitennis.com/english/tag/james-beck.
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