By John Nugent
DANIEL ISLAND, S.C. (WCIV) -- Shelby Rogers is in between workouts at the USTA's training center in Boca Raton, Fla. It's been her home away from home for almost two years now.
Roger's youthful enthusiasm is like a crosscourt winner as she looks forward to returning to play in the Family Circle Cup later this month.
"I'll get to be home, sleep in my own bed, eat some home-cooked meals, see my friends, it's always great to come back -- it's so welcoming," said the 20-year-old kid from Daniel Island.
Currently ranked 212th by the WTA, Rogers admits to some nerves when it comes to playing in front of the home crowd.
"Absolutely, I want to put on a good show for my friends and family, and I want to put on a good show for my city which I'm really proud off, so yes, there will be some nerves to do well," said Rogers, who lost to the veteran Jill Craybas in the first round of the 2011 main draw singles.
In that match, Rogers won the first set before falling in three -- a match in which her lack of experience and a lack of strength and conditioning worked in her opponent's favor that day.
"I know so much more about fitness now," said the former Family Circle Cup ball girl. "The game is so much more physical now, the points are getting longer, the girls are getting stronger, so that's a part of my game I ‘ve improved upon since training in Boca. I'm stronger now -- my endurance is better, and those are two key components of my game."
And Rogers is starting to see results.
Last summer she took the first place prize at an International Tennis event in Yakima, Wash. Two months later, she advanced to the finals of another ITF event in Las Vegas -- before losing the match in three sets.
"Yakima was really special; it was my first title, and I played really well, "recalls Rogers. "It has given me a little more confidence as a player, that yes I can win a professional title. It gives you a little more validity I guess. I'm getting better everyday, my game has really progressed, I get to travel everywhere so it's fun and I'm really enjoying myself."
Rogers says American tennis is in a much better place right now. Nineteen-year-old Sloane Stephens, who beat Serena Williams in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, is an example of that.
"She's a natural athlete, she's strong, she's quick, and she can absorb power well – she's the total package," Rogers said.
Rogers will compete in a tournament this weekend in Palm Harbor, Fla., looking to fine tune her game as she prepares for the Family Circle Cup. She will have to qualify for the event when she arrives back in town – that is if she isn't granted a wild card.
"The draw is really stacked this year so it's going to be harder to get in. Last year they let a lot more players in," she said. "I applied for a wild card but so have a number of other very good Americans -- that decision is up to the tournament director."
Shelby Rogers is a 20-year-old kid from Daniel Island living her dream. Winning the Family Circle Cup in a stadium down the street from her home would be the ultimate.
"I want to see my face on the side of that stadium someday," said Rogers. "Other than a Grand Slam, that would be one of the most memorable moments of my life. That would be special."