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How Shelby Rogers made “one last dying effort” to beat the woman she couldn’t beat, Ash Barty, in another US Open thriller
The American trailed the No. 1 by 2-5 in the third set—and took off from there.
Published Sep 05, 2021
21 for '21: Alison Riske, with Shelby Rogers
NEW YORK—Shelby Rogers keeps a journal on her tour-mates.
“Take notes on players, scout, things like this,” she said on Saturday night at the Open.
One opponent of hers gets a lot more attention than anyone else.
“Half my book is on Ash,” she said with a laugh.
Ash is Ashleigh Barty, of course, the WTA’s No. 1 player, the woman who had already beaten Rogers four times this year, and the woman she played for a sixth time overall in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Saturday.
While Rogers writes a lot about Barty, she joked tonight that she ends up saying the same thing over and over again: “She doesn’t miss a ball.”
“I think what I’ve learned most from her is that she’s No. 1 for a reason,” Rogers said. “It was going to take everything I had tonight to beat her. I gave everything I had and got the win. That’s what it comes down to.”
On her sixth try, with a little help from a loud night crowd and a slow night court, Rogers finally solved the Barty riddle. Like she said, it took everything she had.
She began the match by playing nearly perfect tennis to win the first set 6-2, committing just three errors in those eight games. And she ended the match by playing perhaps the most inspired tennis of her career, coming back from two breaks and 2-5 down in the third set to nip Barty at the wire, 6-2, 1-6, 7-6 (5).
“I am stunned,” Rogers said. “My heart rate is still very much elevated. I’m very excited with that win.”
She said the one thing she didn’t want to do was lose the same way she had lost to Barty every other time. So she tried some new things. At the start, she mixed in high balls and made sure she got down for Barty’s biting underspin backhand.
“I was super patient with her slice,” Rogers said, “because she’s not going to miss one very often. I know that very well.”
And then, for most of the next two sets, it looked as if Rogers was going to lose anyway. Barty, who hadn’t played a night match in Ashe, said she was surprised by how “slow and dead” the court was at night.
“I played a pretty awful first set in the sense where I was erratic,” Barty said. “I couldn’t quite find the rhythm of how I wanted to play. I found a way back into the match, found a way to turn the match back in my favor, have a couple of opportunities to serve it out and be within a couple of points, disappointing not to get it done.”
Barty almost got it done, but Rogers was determined to do whatever she could not to let cross the finish line. Rogers said that Barty tries to give her opportunities to go for too much, so she can “finesse me off the court.” But this time the American did her best to run all of Barty’s slices down, to dig in with her from the baseline, to moonball, to get the ball back over the net anyway she could—to win ugly when she had to.
“Down 5-2, two breaks, not looking too good,” Rogers said. “Not a situation I want to be in at all. I had some thoughts of, ‘Well, good try, here we go again kind of stuff, right? She got me again, too good.’”
“Then I kind of tried to brush that away and say, ‘You know what, let’s try to make some balls here, let’s get the crowd into it,’ which is something I think some of the guys have inspired me to do.”
Tonight it was Rogers who scrambled and made balls, and Barty who lost her range down the stretch. With the crowd urging her on, Rogers broke for 3-5, held for 4-5, and broke again for 5-5. One of her gets on a Barty drop shot brought the crowd to its feet.
In the tiebreaker, it was Rogers who held firm, and Barty who kept sending ground strokes over the baseline. And when Rogers finally had a match point against her least-favorite opponent, she made sure she took it with one of her best serves of the night.
“I said, ‘You know what, if I’m going to go down, I’m going to give a last dying effort.’”
“Somehow, I don’t know, guys. Somehow that happened.”
Rogers, 28, has been through the tennis wringer. She has had knee surgeries, and seen her game and ranking rise and fall and rise and fall again over the years. She has played good tennis and come away with little to show for it. She started this season playing well, but lost—naturally—to Barty in Melbourne, Charleston and Madrid. Coming to New York, she had lost in the first round in San Jose, Montreal, and Cleveland. She was just 20-19 on the season.
“Tennis is funny like that,” Rogers said tonight. “Right when you’re just like, ‘Why can I not hit a ball in the court,’ then you do something like this and you love the sport all over again.”