FROM BALLKID TO THE BIGTIME: ROGERS RETURNS TO CHARLESTON

FROM BALLKID TO THE BIGTIME: ROGERS RETURNS TO CHARLESTON

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 25: Shelby Rogers of the USA plays a back hand against Coco Gauff of the USA during day four of the Adelaide International WTA 500 at Memorial Drive on February 25, 2021 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images)

MUGURUZA, KVITOVA, GAUFF, ‘16 CHAMP STEPHENS JOIN HOMETOWNER ON TUESDAY LINEUP AT VOLVO CAR OPEN

Shelby Rogers was just a wide-eyed ballgirl in 2001, all of age eight but already dreaming pro-tennis dreams.

Jennifer Capriati had just upset World No. 1 Martina Hingis in the Charleston final, 6-0, 4-6, 6-4, and Rogers, born in Mount Pleasant, was tasked with delivering a bouquet of flowers to the victor. The Hall-of-Famer-to-be Capriati looked down at her young presenter and made a bold prediction, one that Rogers will never forget.

“You’re going to be able to play here one day.”

She might not have believed it at the time, not fully anyway, but Rogers would indeed go on to carve a career in the sport. And she’d return to that same court time and again, not as a ballgirl, but as a player, making good on Capriati’s prognostication. She would even reach the Volvo Car Open quarterfinals in 2017.

“To actually make it happen, it’s just a really cool story,” said Rogers, now into her 12th year on the WTA Tour. “It’s just a lot of years of hard work and dreaming about playing on that court.”

Rogers, 28, who rose to a career-high No. 48 in 2017, will take the court at the LTP Daniel Island Tennis Center once again on Tuesday for her first-round match against Kristina Mladenovic. She’s 1-2 against the Frenchwoman, with all three of their head-to-heads coming in 2018.

Joining Rogers in first-round action on Tuesday will be 2016 titlist Sloane Stephens, who will face lucky loser Xinyu Wang of China. Should she win, Stephens would set a mouthwatering second-round clash with defending champion Madison Keys in what would be a rematch of their 2017 US Open final.

But Stephens isn’t looking past Wang just yet. She’s just 1-5 on the year, her lone win coming in the opening round of the Miami Open only days ago (def. Oceane Dodin, 6-7(6), 6-4, 6-2).

“Tennis is a very quick turnaround sport. You could be having the worst season of your life, then go win the French Open or win a Premier 500 and everything is back to normal. For myself, being realistic and knowing where I am, my game and what I need to work on, where I want to improve, that takes time,” said Stephens, ranked No. 57. “Tennis is a sport that takes time to kind of get your groove back, get your confidence back. It’s going to get better. No one stays in a rut for the rest of their life or the rest of their career. At some point, the tables do turn.”

World No. 13 Garbiñe Muguruza returns to Charleston for the first time since 2013. And the Spaniard arrives playing perhaps her most inspired tennis since claiming Roland Garros and Wimbledon titles in 2016 and 2017, respectively. She’s already reached three finals in 2021, taking the title last month at the WTA 1000 in Dubai (def. Barbora Krajcikova, 7-6(6), 6-3). The 27-year-old now boasts a tour-best 20 match wins for the year.

“I don’t think I have a different approach,” she said. “I feel like I have the same attitude, the same spirit. I definitely have more experience. I think that’s key to my perspective more and more. The wins and losses are more acceptable once you get more mature, and it takes less energy. But, in general, it’s knowing myself more, knowing how I have to work, how I have to act and proceed in order to point myself in the right direction earlier than before. I would say it’s experience more than anything else.”

Muguruza will take on qualifier Magdalena Frech of Poland.

One player who’s managed to get the best of Muguruza in 2021 is Petra Kvitova, who will also play her Charleston opener on Tuesday when she faces qualifier Storm Sanders of Australia. The two-time Wimbledon champ, ranked No. 11, downed Muguruza, 6-2, 6-1, last month in the Qatar Total Open final in Doha. Should the seeds hold up, Kvitova and Muguruza would meet in the quarterfinals.

But perhaps the most anticipated matchup on Tuesday’s lineup is No. 14 seed Coco Gauff vs. Tsvetana Pironkova, the featured night match on the Althea Gibson Club Court. Gauff, 17, is making her Charleston debut, though she’s no stranger to the green clay. She grew up playing on the stuff, after all, in Florida.

“It’s going to be my first WTA tournament on green clay, so I’m excited for that,” said Gauff, who reached her first WTA 500 semi in Adelaide and first WTA 1000 quarterfinal in Dubai earlier this year.

CORI GAUFF Garbiñe Muguruza Madison Keys Shelby Rogers Sloane Stephens