NEW YORK — There were 22 American women in the draw at the start of the US Open. Among them were rising stars, teen phenoms and even a former champion.
But on Saturday night, just one countrywoman remained, and she frankly was none of those things.
After defeating world No. 1 and two-time major champion Ash Barty in a dramatic third-set tiebreaker, it was 28-year-old Shelby Rogers left as the last woman from the United States triumphantly standing.
Rogers was trailing 5-2 in the final set and her fate amongst the rest of her peers appeared sealed. For the first time in the history of the Open Era, it appeared there wouldn’t be an American woman in the round of 16.
But point by point, and then game by game, Rogers willed herself back into the match with staggering variety and a relentless energy buoyed by the support of the vocal home crowd. When the final point of the 6-1, 2-6, 7-6 (5) match was won, she put her hands over her mouth in disbelief before raising her arms above her head in jubilation. As she made her way around the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium, waving and acknowledging those in attendance, she couldn’t stop smiling.
More than an hour later at her news conference, the smile had yet to fade.
“I am stunned,” Rogers told reporters. “My heart rate is still very much elevated. I’m very excited with that win.”
Several of the top American women, like Serena Williams, Sofia Kenin and Jennifer Brady, were unable to play the US Open due to injury and illness, and few would have predicted Rogers, ranked No. 43 in the world, as the one to pick up the mantle in their absence. Not with players like a resurgent Sloane Stephens or burgeoning superstar Coco Gauff in the mix.
But while Rogers has flown very much under the radar, Saturday’s victory isn’t completely unexpected. Since the tour’s return last year following the five-month break due to the pandemic, Rogers has achieved some of her best results. She defeated Serena Williams in the first tournament back following the break and then went on to reach her first quarterfinal at the 2020 US Open, after eight previous appearances, defeating No. 6 seed Petra Kvitova in the fourth round. She lost to eventual champion Naomi Osaka in the quarters, but the experience deep into the second week gave her newfound confidence.
She reached the fourth round at the Australian Open for the first time to start the 2021 season and achieved a career-high ranking of No. 40 over the summer.
Still, she came into the match with a 0-5 career record against Barty, who has been one of the most consistent players on tour and won five titles in 2021. The two had met four times this season and Rogers never had an answer for Barty.
But on Saturday, she used the previous meetings to her advantage.
“I think tonight going on the court I told myself I didn’t want to lose the same way I lost the last five times against her,” Rogers said. “I just tried to do things a little bit differently. In the first set I mixed in some high balls, I was super patient with her slice because she’s not going to miss one very often. I know that very well.
“In the second and third [set], she definitely raised her level, as she does. I mean, she’s the No. 1 player in the world for a reason. But I started wanting to hit the ball a little bit harder, find some winners if I could. That’s the tennis I like to play, that’s what she wants me to do. She wants to redirect and finesse me around the court, wait for me to miss. I was just happy and really proud of myself tonight for problem- solving, if you will… It ended up working somehow.”
The two shared a warm embrace at the end of the match, and even had a friendly greeting as Barty was leaving her news conference and Rogers was coming in to speak. Admired by her colleagues on the WTA tour for her enthusiasm and positive attitude, despite some devastating setbacks including a knee injury and 2018 surgery that kept her sidelined for nearly a year, Barty said she was disappointed about the night’s outcome but couldn’t be too upset to lose to Rogers.
“It sucks in tennis that there’s a winner and loser every single day, but sometimes you don’t mind losing to certain people,” Barty said. “I think Shelby [because of] her personality and her character, she’s certainly one of those for me.”
Rogers will next face 18-year-old sensation Emma Raducanu on Monday with a spot in her second-straight quarterfinals on the line. She has never reached the semifinals at a major, but wasn’t thinking about that Saturday, nor was she thinking much about being the country’s only hope remaining in the women’s draw. Rogers simply wants to take it one day, and one opponent, at a time.
“I’m not trying to think about [being] the last one in the draw because there’s a bunch of other players in the draw too that aren’t from America that I’m trying to beat,” Rogers said. “I’m just moving on. I have some doubles tomorrow, focus on that, then move on to the next singles match.”
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