During her year away from the game she loves, Shelby Rogers tried to fill the void.

She began to play the piano again and took up golf. She took online college classes, working toward a degree in psychology with an ambitious slate of courses.

"I thought, 'I'll have all this free time, I'll take 18 hours,'" Rogers said with a laugh. "I got a little burned out."

Try as she might, Rogers couldn't replace that feeling she woke up with Monday morning.

Match day.

"The adrenaline, the nerves, the excitement," Rogers said. "You can't recreate that outside of the arena."

Rogers, a Charleston native who rose to No. 48 in the world in women's tennis, returned to the arena on Monday. Playing in her first WTA Tour match in more than a year, Rogers defeated Russian veteran Evgeniya Rodina 6-4, 6-2 in the first round of the Volvo Car Open.

That the victory, her first since a career-threatening knee injury 13 months ago, came before family and friends on the stadium court where she once served as a ball kid during this tournament made the moment even more poignant.

"I couldn't have written it any better," she said. "It's kind of storybook."

The 26-year-old Rogers cried after she won the first set, dropped her racket and cried after winning match point, and cried some more as she hugged mom, sister and coach in her family's box.

"I can't remember the last time I cried after winning a first set, that's ridiculous," Rogers said after her first win on Tour since October 2017. "And kind of embarrassing, to be honest. But I enjoyed every second of it."

Rogers, who has won more than $2 million since turning pro at age 16 and made the quarterfinals of the French Open in 2016, injured her left knee in March 2018 during a match at Indian Wells.

A successful comeback was not certain after surgery to resurface the atricular cartilage of her knee. Rogers lost her WTA Tour ranking during her year away and will earn her first prize money in more than a year at the Volvo Car Open. She needed a wild card to make the field at her hometown tourney.

"When the game is taken away from you, you realize how much you love it," she told the cheering crowd after the match.

She showed just a few signs of rust against 69th-ranked Rodina, belting six aces at up to 115 mph and winning 69 percent of her first-serve points.

Rogers took the first two games of the match before Rodina rallied and broke Rogers' serve for a 4-3 lead. Rogers called for her coach, Marc Lucero, then ripped off the final three games of the set before cruising in the second set.

After match point, she dropped her racket and clasped her hands over her face to hide the tears, then brought her niece, Harper, on court to help in the celebration.

It was another turning point in Rogers' relationship with her hometown tournament, where she admitted feeling some added pressure in the early years before breaking through to make the quarterfinals in 2017.

"Today was very special," said her mom, Starley. "The past year, she's worked so hard, and not knowing if she'd be able to make it back. In her heart, she was just fully focused on today and coming back.

"She felt the love here today, and she knew how much she missed it. She wanted to embrace it today and really come full circle."

Rogers will face 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in the second round. They've only met once, with Ostapenko winning in straight sets on red clay in Rome in 2017.

Charleston's newest rising star, Ashley Hall junior Emma Navarro, will face German veteran Laura Siegemund in her Volvo Car Open debut on stadium court in Tuesday's featured night match, which won't start before 7 p.m.

Navarro earned a wild card into the VCO main draw by winning the national junior clay courts last year and is coming off a win in the Easter Bowl National Championships last week.

Also in action Tuesday will be top-seeded Sloane Stephens, the 2016 Volvo Car Open champ, and 2014 VCO winner Andrea Petkovic, both on stadium court. Rising American stars Amanda Anisimova, Danielle Collins and Madison Brengle also will feature on stadium court, with defending VCO champ Kiki Bertens playing the final match of the day on center stage.

Ostapenkno, seeded 10th here, won in straight sets on stadium court Monday, as did ninth-seeded Belinda Bencic and 13th-seeded American Sofia Kenin. No. 14 seed Ajla Tomljanovic also advanced in straight sets.

Kenin knocked off 2009 Volvo Car champion Sabine Lisicki, who got a wild card into the main draw. American Jessica Pegula needed three sets to get past Russian Irina Khromacheva 1-6, 7-6, 6-1, and American Allie Kiick trounced Frenchwoman Pauline Parmentier 6-3, 6-0. American Taylor Townsend rallied from a set down for a 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 win over qualifier Astra Sharma.

Alize Cornet of France was forced to withdraw with a right leg injury and was replaced in the main draw by Connie Perrin. She'll face No. 15 seed Maria Sakkari on Tuesday.

Reach Jeff Hartsell at 843-937-5596. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_fromthePC

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