There were at least three critical times in Monday's rain-interrupted Smash Junior Cup girls' 18 final at Family Circle Tennis Center, and local favorite Shelby Rogers came up big each time in a convincing 6-1, 6-2 victory over Emily Gelber of Scarsdale, N.Y.
The results of the match were a dream come true for Rogers, a 17-year-old who resides about five minutes away from the huge tennis complex on Daniel Island. Rogers started her tennis training on the very same courts nine years ago under then pro Fritz Nau.
This time, she was playing for a wild-card berth in the prestigious Family Circle Cup qualifying tournament that is set for April. And she won going away, thanks to taking advantage of the three big moments.
The first one was at the start of the 10 a.m. match. Rogers mixed her power with change-of-pace shots to win the first two games with the loss of just two points, then led 4-1 when the rain came. By then, the smallish Gelber seemed thoroughly frustrated.
But when the two girls resumed play on a different court at 4:25 p.m., Gelber looked like a new player, more determined and consistent. Rogers wasn't surprised as she broke serve in the three-deuce sixth game and then held serve to close out the first set.
The third critical time was the start of the second set. Rogers yielded only one point in the first two games and never looked back, taking only 42 minutes after the restart to finsh off the match.
"I've been wanting this for awhile," Rogers said after all of the congratulatory hugs from her parents, grandparents and other friends.
"I first started practicing here with Fritz when I was about eight years old. Ever since then I've had my eye on it."
Rogers, who is ranked No. 922 in the world by the WTA Tour, felt her opponent got off to a slow start. "She looked a little nervous, but she was a lot better after the rain delay," she said.
"I didn't think we were going to finish it today, but I knew I definitely had to pick it up my game when we started back. I felt if I could win that first game when we started back, I would have the momentum and confidence to win. I put a lot of emphasis on that game.
"I just tried to be as creative as I could," the online-schooled Rogers said about her high-kicking balls to Gelber's backhand that set up smashing winners from both sides by the champion. "I tried to play high-percentage shots and it paid off. I picked my chances.
"I would just like to thank all of my local fans for the support they gave me."
Reach James Beck at firstname.lastname@example.org.