An older sister's influence is as easy to recognize as the faces of Venus and Serena Williams.

Daniel Island's Shelby Rogers isn't so prominent. She's only 17 and just starting out in professional tennis.

But Rogers has an older sister who has played a major role in the structuring of her life. You might even go so far as to say that Rogers is a pro tennis player partly because of the influence of her older sister, Sabra.

Shelby was a mere 4-year-old when she clung to the fence at Snee Farm Country Club watching Sabra playing tennis and said, "I want to do that." That moment left an indelible mark on Shelby's life.

She will always be able to look back and say, "I was a professional tennis player. I played in the U.S. Open."

Only an elite few in today's society can make such statements.

There are thousands of women playing pro tennis. But Rogers is one of only 128 women who earned berths in the U.S. Open this year, gaining entry by capturing the girls' 18 national championship recently in San Diego.

Former Bishop England and Emory University tennis standout Sabra is proud of her baby sister.

"I couldn't be more proud of her," said Sabra, who is in New York to watch Shelby play. "As soon as she made up her mind, I had no doubt she could do it."

Shelby also cherishes those early memories. "I looked up to her (Sabra), and I loved tennis. We are really close. She has helped me a lot over the years," Shelby said.

Shelby overcame three match points in the national semifinals to keep alive her dream of earning a wild card into the U.S. Open. A week earlier in Vancouver, Rogers rallied from a 5-3 deficit in the second set and 4-0 down in the third set to defeat formerly 27th-ranked Sania Mirza.

Comebacks have become Rogers'

trademark as much as her aggressive gunslinger style of play. That's one reason Bryan Minton enjoys coaching her so much.

"She just fought and never gave up," said Minton, her longtime coach and a pro at Mount Pleasant's LTP Tennis.

At 5-9, Rogers plays, hits and serves with power. She goes for the lines.

This all started that day at Snee Farm. Then came the day 13 years later in early May in Plantation, Fla., when she made the decision to forgo a possible college tennis career by turning pro, rejecting many college offers.

"Actually I had been wanting to do it (turn pro) for awhile, but wanted to keep my options open. I got to the finals of Indian Harbor and I said I would do it," Rogers recalled about the $50,000 Florida tournament in which she won seven straight matches.

Rogers definitely felt recently when she duplicated her earlier feat of winning seven straight matches that she had made the right decision. Only this time, the rewards were a national championship, a spot in the main draw of the U.S. Open and the girls 18 national player of the year.

Rogers, ranked 345th, is looking forward to playing China's 24-year-old Shuai Peng, who's ranked 60th, in her first match at the U.S. Open, probably on Tuesday since the match isn't on today's schedule. Rogers expects to be a little nervous, even though the match might not be played in one of the two large stadium courts at Billie Jean King Tennis Center.

"I think I'll be a little nervous, but I'm always nervous at the start of my matches. Once I get out there and get my feet moving, I'll figure out a way to get points going against her," Rogers said.

Regardless of what happens at the U.S. Open, it's been a magical year for Rogers. She won the Smash Junior Cup and the wild card into the qualifying tournament for the Family Circle Cup. She didn't qualify for the main draw, but played two exhibitions, including a highly competitive showing in a Friday night doubles pairing with tour veteran Patty Schnyder before a crowd of more than 8,000 in Family Circle Magazine Stadium.

She followed that up by making the final at the $50,000 challenger in Florida, then advanced to the quarterfinals of a $75,000 event in Vancouver, playing a tight match against former world's No. 4 Jelena Dokic. Then came the excitement of winning the national title.

Rogers wants to take advantage of the opportunity by learning more about how the game is played and conducted at the top level. Win or lose, she plans to stick around a few days and watch "some of the other girls play."

Rogers is a home-grown product. She followed her sister into junior tennis, winning five singles titles at the Palmetto Championships, the last one when she was 14 playing in 16-and-under.

She attended First Baptist Church School on Meeting Street, leaving after her freshman year to concentrate on tennis full-time at the then Players Club (now LTP Tennis). She earned her high school diploma online.

Rogers has prepared diligently for the biggest opportunity of her tennis career. Prior to going to New York last Thursday, she was practicing twice a day, five hours a day. Under the watchful eye of Minton, Rogers was fortunate enough to have a line of excellent hitting partners at LTP Tennis, including former Brigham Young standout and current LTP pro Chip Hand as well as Summerville's Robbye Poole. Dan Reckner has worked with Rogers four days a week on conditioning, work that paid off handsomely in long, grueling matches in the national championships..

"This past week has been more fine tuning rather than specifics. More mental than anything," Rogers said.

In New York, she hopes to see Caroline Wozniacki. "I like her game. I guess she's my favorite player. She seems like a good girl."

Of course, Rogers will have her eyes out for Roger Federer. "I love Federer. It would be cool to meet him."

But as Minton said, "There's obviously a lot more excitement now, and Shelby is obviously excited. She's just got to go and play tennis now."

Reach James Beck at jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. See his columns on pro tennis at ubitennis.com/english.