After Shelby Rogers won for the first time in the Family Circle Cup on Monday, a throng of kids waited above the tunnel at Billie Jean King Stadium Court, clamoring for her autograph.
It wasn’t that long ago that the 22-year-old Rogers was one of those kids — working as a Family Circle Cup ball girl, training on the facility’s green clay courts, cavorting with friends on the grounds.
“I’ve got so many balls, hats, wristbands — everything you can possibly imagine,” Rogers said, recalling her days as a Daniel Island autograph hound. “I even got a kiss on the cheek from Jennifer Capriati.”
Rogers made a memory Monday that might surpass even a kiss from the 2001 Family Circle Cup champion. The hometown girl routed 67th-ranked Siliva Soler-Espinosa, 6-3, 6-1, to claim her first main-draw victory in the Family Circle Cup.
“Everyone tells me how lucky I am to have a tournament in my hometown, and I am blessed,” said Rogers, a Mount Pleasant native now ranked No. 86 in the world.
But that blessing comes packed with pressure, and Rogers shed tears after her previous appearances in the Family Circle Cup main draw resulted in losses, in 2011 and 2014.
“To win here has been a goal of mine for a long time,” said Rogers, who turned pro in 2010 at age 17. “I have tried every year and have had some tough matches here. Each one made me stronger and tougher, so now I get to enjoy this moment.”
The moment came in part because of Rogers’ decision to play at a lower-level ITF tournament last week in Florida. After losing in the first round of the Miami Open, Rogers dropped to 0-6 in WTA matches this year. In Osprey, Fla., Rogers won two matches to make the quarterfinals, a nice boost heading into her homecoming in Charleston.
“It was good,” Rogers said. “I got some matches in on clay down there, and it’s always a difficult transition from hardcourts to clay. It was nice to be at a a low-key, smaller tournament and get acclimated to moving and sliding on clay. It was a smart move.”
The first part of this season has been a lesson on life in the big-time of the WTA Tour for Rogers. Last summer, she knocked off several top 20 players, including No. 8 Eugenie Bouchard, and made her first WTA final at Bad Gastein, pushing her ranking into the top 100 and qualifying her for main draws this year. Her first-round losses this year include one to No. 2 Maria Sharapova.
“I’ve had a lot of losses, but not to bad players,” Rogers said. “I have had a lot of really cool experiences that are getting me a lot of exposure and getting me used to playing in bigger stadiums and in bigger matches. My ranking is higher now, so I have to be ready to play from the first match on against someone like Sharapova. So it’s a learning curve.”
Against Soler-Espinosa, Rogers faced a 27-year-old ranked 19 spots higher. But Rogers took charge from the middle of the first set on, winning nine of the last 10 games. She won 75 percent of her first-serve points, fought off all four break points and needed just 74 minutes for the win.
“I started going after my shots a little bit more,” she said, “hitting the ball a little deeper and got some confidence going.”
Now, Rogers’ goal is to keep that confidence stoked as she navigates all the memories and emotions that come with playing in your hometown. She could face No. 14 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the second round.
“I’m still about to cry,” Rogers said after Monday’s match. “But it’s happy tears this time.”
In other first-round matches Monday, No. 16 seed Heather Watson of Great Britain was ousted by Donna Vekic in three sets. Seeded players Zarina Diyas, Mona Barthel and Irina-Camelia Begu all advanced, Begu and Barthel in straight sets.
Lauren Davis won a spirited battle between young Americans, outlasting Grace Min 6-7, 7-6, 6-3. American hopefuls Christina McHale and Nicole Gibbs went out in straight sets, while wild-card entrant Sachia Vickery needed three sets to get past fellow American Jessica Pegula, who trains at the Family Circle Tennis Center.