Playing tennis for a living is the dream of thousands of young players the world over. For most, it’s just that. A dream.
Shelby Rogers, a 20-year-old from Daniel Island, is living that dream.
She’s in Paris to play in the French Open — a Grand Slam event — that begins Sunday.
For a professional tennis player ranked 188th in the world, a job is only as secure as the final score of the next match.
Rogers’ first-round opponent in the French Open will be 169th-ranked Irena Pavlovic of France, who like Rogers is a wild card entry.
Rogers realizes there is plenty of work still to be done, grueling daily workouts and long pressurized matches. But there was no way she was going to miss that chance.
“I really had to give myself a chance on the tour. It’s been a dream of mine since I was a little girl,” Rogers said earlier this month before leaving for France.
“I can always go back to school, get my degree, take classes, but I can’t always play on tour. We have a pretty short window of time . . . I had to give myself a chance.”
It hasn’t been an easy road for the girl who attended First Baptist Church School in Charleston, but never played high school tennis and eventually migrated to online schooling. But she never gave up on the dream she acquired while clinging to the fences and watching big sister Sabra play the game.
She followed the dream tirelessly, training with long-time coach Bryan Minton at the old Players Club and Family Circle Tennis Center.
Soon, she was winning Belton titles. And then pro titles. She turned pro three years ago.
“I had a couple good pro tournaments and decided to officially turn pro and not go to college right out of high school,” she said. “I did the whole college visit. I went on my official visits, went to a couple schools. I actually probably would have gone to Clemson maybe. I was pretty set on that.”
The USTA took her under its arm and she made the decision to move to Boca Raton, Fla., two years ago to train at the USTA’s national training center.
That’s when her career switched gears.
“It was probably one of the hardest decisions of my life, leaving my family and everyone at home, the coach (Minton) I’d been with since I was seven,” she said.
“But there just weren’t any players to train with in Charleston. I had a good setup with coaching and fitness and stuff like that. But moving to Boca, you have world-class players every day to practice against, a nice gym, fitness trainers. Everything is right at your fingertips. I think it was a good move and something that I needed to do. It definitely helped my game. The results show that, I think.”
When she played in the qualifying tournament for the Family Circle Cup in April 2012, she was ranked No. 442 in the world. She has climbed more than 250 spots in the last 14 months and is projected to advance into the top 175 next week after winning 10 of her last 13 matches. She has scored victories over three top 100 players in the last seven months.
Her earnings for 2013 are approximately $21,000, but she will earn at least $27,300 more for playing in the French Open.
“I think a big thing for me recently has been patience, not trying to do too much with my game,” Rogers said. “I tend to pull the trigger a little bit too much.”
She’s already had some success on the clay courts in France, winning four straight matches in qualifying and through the first round of the main draw of the $235,000 WTA event in Strasbourg earlier this week.
“I feel pretty comfortable on the clay. I’m confident in my game and my movement right now,” she said prior to leaving for France.
The French Open draw provides Rogers with a solid chance to score her first Grand Slam main draw win. The veteran 24-year-old Pavlovic is ranked only 19 spots ahead of Rogers. In 2010, when Rogers earned a wild card into the U.S. Open by winning the U.S. Junior Championships, then 344th-ranked Rogers split a pair of tiebreakers with then 61st-ranked Shuai Peng before losing the third set of the first-round match.