For a brief period in 2018, Shelby Rogers seriously wondered if her career might be over. Four years later, she’s hoping it is just beginning.
After suffering a ruptured cartilage in her left knee at Indian Wells in 2018, and requiring season-ending surgery to repair it, Rogers is back to full fitness and coming off a successful season that can only be seen as a sign of better things to come.
The American, who recorded her first ever top-40 finish in 2021, a year that saw her bounce world No.1 Ash Barty from the US Open and reach her first quarterfinal at the BNP Paribas Open, has paired up with former WTA Coach of the Year Piotr Sierzputowski, the 29-year-old who swiftly guided Poland’s Iga Swiatek to her maiden Grand Slam title at Roland Garros in 2020.
“I truly believe that her ranking doesn’t really show the strength of her game,” Sierzputowski told BNPParibas.com when asked about Rogers’ upside. “It’s just about consistency; she had a strong year last year, which was really good because she played the whole year without injury. She was super happy about it, so it’s just about keeping it going the same way.”
Sierzputowski on Rogers – “A Joy to Watch”
Sierzputowski and Rogers got together for a trial before Doha last month, and afterwards the pair decided to join forces for the season. The Pole thinks that Rogers, currently ranked 49, has what it takes to break into the WTA’s top-20, and stresses that the South Carolina native already possesses all the tools she needs to do it. Anyone who has ever seen her crush blistering ground strokes off of both wings would agree.
“I would say that I’m super impressed by how clean she hits the ball,” Sierzputowski raves. “Of course it all depends on the opponent from the other side, but Shelby can hit exactly in the middle of the sweet spot, consistently, one after the other—it’s a pure joy to watch. There are not a lot of shanks, everything is really on time and if she’s feeling good, if mentally she is there, then she’s playing really good tennis.”
Rogers has played the really good tennis that Sierzputowski refers to quite often over the course of her career. Her best WTA ranking of 36 says very little about the damage she can do against the WTA’s elite.
Consistency is the Key
Since 2020 Rogers has split her 20 matches against top-20 opposition, registering wins against the likes of Barty, Serena Williams, Maria Sakkari (twice), Petra Kvitova, Bianca Andreescu and Elena Rybakina.
“Like you saw with Barty, she played a crazy match at the US Open and she is the last one who defeated her,” her new coach says, recalling Rogers’ thrilling comeback from 5-2 down in the third set against the Aussie in New York last September. “She can beat any player, but she can also lose to players she should beat.”
Sierzputowski says the key to Rogers rising in 2022 will be consistency, and he’s confident he can help her find her steadiest tennis.
“Yes, we have to work on the consistency,” he says, adding: “I think I have some idea about how to do this, and some experience making a player consistent, so I feel like we are going the right way.”
Rogers herself is all about constant improvement. After stunning Barty in New York last year she talked about her willingness to turn over every rock in her quest for excellence.
“I think every time I lose a match, I try to learn as much as I can,” she said. “As much as it hurts to lose, nobody likes it, you have to find a way to improve from it, improve your game, constantly trying to get one percent better every day.”
Dreaming Big in 2022
When it comes to work ethic, Rogers doesn’t drop the beat: she is among the most professional on the tour. This is confirmed by her coach, who is duly impressed by the American’s maturity.
“I can be honest and tell you that I never met somebody as professional as her,” he says.
“Even with the sleeping, scheduling, eating healthy foods, being aware of the challenges around her, she is an exceptional professional athlete.”
Though she has yet to hit her stride this season (Rogers enters Indian Wells on a four-match skid), Sierzputowski expects Rogers’ commitment to excellence to pay big dividends as the season progresses.
“I feel like Shelby is dreaming big and this is really important for me, because I truly believe that if we have a good relationship and we work well, then we can find what can really help her succeed,” he concludes.