Shelby Rogers: giant-killer.
After making a name for herself by upsetting some of the world’s better players, Rogers finally has beaten the best at the U.S. Open. She rallied from double break down in the final set Saturday night to topple top-seeded Ashleigh Barty 6-2, 1-6, 7-6 (5) in front of a raucous Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd.
“I had chills out there on the court,” the 28-year-old Rogers said in a postmatch television interview. “This is definitely a moment I’ll remember the rest of my life.”
As soon as the final point was won, it was obvious just how much it meant to the South Carolina native, and last American woman standing at the Open. Yes, because of how she did it, but also who she did it against.
“This was a tough one to swallow,” said the 25-year-old Barty, ranked No. 1 in the world.
Rogers, who has past wins over Serena Williams, Simona Halep and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, had been 0-6 against No. 1-ranked foes and had been 0-5 against Barty — including a staggering four losses this year alone to the Australian star.
She said she watched video beforehand of Vitas Gerulaitis proclaiming “Nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row” after finally getting his first win against Jimmy Connors. The brash New Yorker broke through in that 1980 match, and apparently, nobody beats Rogers six times in a row either.
When the final point was won, Rogers dropped her racquet and covered her face in shock. She looked skyward and then to the crowd and mouthed the word, “What?”
In disbelief, she was asked later to explain how she had stormed back to win.
“I’m not sure I can. I just tried to fight for every point,” said Rogers, adding of the crowd, “I tweeted [Friday] that the crowd here is next-level this year. You guys have picked who you want to win, and [it’s made a difference]. So thank you guys for picking me.
“You guys were awesome. I didn’t want to leave. I just said make balls, stay in this match. It can’t get any worse: You’ve lost to her every time, try something different.”
Down two breaks at 5-2 in the third set, Rogers completely scrapped the playbook and went off-brand.
Her usual tack of trying to overpower foes with her serve and power hadn’t worked against Barty. So she channeled a fastball pitcher going to a changeup and off-speed slop. It worked.
“The harder I hit the ball, the harder she hit. So I tried something different,” Rogers said.
“I made up my mind if I was going to lose, I wasn’t gonna lose the same way. … [I was] mixing in some high balls, things that aren’t the most comfortable for me. But I had to change. … This is not something I do very often, little lobs and being super-patient.”
The result was an array of lobs and chips, several of which landed just inside the baseline. Rogers rallied to force a tiebreaker and pulled it out from there.
With Barty serving up 4-3, her volley went long to tie it. Then another Barty volley clipped the net but sailed long to put Rogers up, 5-4.
Rogers went up 6-5, and on match point, she clinched it. She tossed the racquet aside and looked at the crowd, soaking in the applause. The win came after comeback from knee surgery and a year away from the game — a game she wasn’t sure she would ever get back to.
“Six months after my surgery, I just remember telling my PT I’m not sure if I’ll ever play again,” Rogers said in a postmatch TV interview. “So this is extra special for me. And to do it in New York is incredible for me. Last year, I had a good run, made the quarters, but man, is it a different tournament with fans.”