After securing the biggest victory of her tennis career, Shelby Rogers dropped her tennis racquet on the Arthur Ashe Stadium court, covered her mouth with her hands in disbelief and then retrieved her racquet from the ground before raising her arms in celebration as the crowd roared in approval.
The 28-year-old from Mount Pleasant, S.C., the last remaining American woman in the draw, had just knocked off world No. 1 Ash Barty, the top seed and favorite to win the U.S. Open, after losing to her five straight times, including four this year alone. Barty, who came in to New York having won both Wimbledon and Cincinnati, led 5-2 in the final set and twice served for the match, but Rogers fought back, mixed up her tactics with lobs and more patient play and prevailed 6-2, 1-6, 7-6(5). She moved on to face 18-year-old British star Emma Raducanu in the fourth round, where she is guaranteed to take home at least $265,000.
“The crowd is next-level this year,” Rogers told the fans at Arthur Ashe Stadium. “You’ve picked who you want to win, so thank you for picking me tonight.”
A year ago, when she lost to Naomi Osaka in the quarterfinals when she was working her way back from knee surgery, there were no fans on hand to cheer on the American because of the pandemic.
The victory by Rogers came on a big day for the Americans, as three American men are now into the round of 16: No. 22 seed Reilly Opelka, former Baylor commit Jenson Brooksby and Frances Tiafoe. Brooksby became the youngest American man to reach the fourth round of the U.S. Open since Andy Roddick in 2002 after surviving a five-setter with Russian Aslan Karatsev Saturday. A fourth American, Jack Sock, retired down two-sets-to-one and 2-1 in the fourth against No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev because of a right groin injury on Saturday night.
Opelka, Brooksby and Tiafoe are the first trio of American men in a Grand Slam fourth round since the 2011 U.S. Open when John Isner, Mardy Fish, Andy Roddick and Donald Young did it.
Tiafoe, who stunned No. 5 seed Andrey Rublev in five sets Friday, faces Canadian No. 12 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime on Sunday.
Opelka, the huge-serving 7-footer who remains American’s most “dangerous” threat at this tournament, meets South Africa’s Lloyd Harris on Monday, while Brooksby gets world No. 1 Novak Djokovic on Monday. Djokovic, who prevailed over 2014 U.S. Open finalist Kei Nishikori in four sets, is four wins from becoming the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win the Grand Slam.
Several other young Americans, including Brandon Nakashima and Sebastian Korda, are out of the tournament but show promise for the future.
“I think Brooksby is going to be a big second-week guy,” Opelka said after beating Nikoloz Basilishivili, 7-6, 6-3, 6-4. “Nakashima. I think Korda. I think the young guys are better than us, if I’m being honest. I think Korda is a hell of a player. Brooksby is brutal.
“I’m curious to see his match with Djokovic. I think he can give Djokovic a lot of fits because he’s just tricky. Nakashima is as pure of a ball-striker as there is. I think the young guys are going to be the guys to beat from the American standpoint.”
As for Rogers, few would have pegged her as the last American woman standing at the U.S. Open. She had knee surgery in 2018 and told her physical trainer six months later, “I’m not sure if I’ll ever play again.”
She added in an ESPN interview with Chris McKendry: “The people around me were just incredible encouraging me. The people around you can help so much when you’re doubting yourself and you don’t believe in yourself.”
Entering the tournament, Sofia Kenin, Serena Williams and Venus Williams were all out due to injuries or Covid issues, but stars like Coco Gauff, Sloane Stephens, Danielle Collins and Jessica Pegula were pegged to potentially make deep runs.
But entering Saturday night, they were all out of the draw and Rogers had to face someone she had never beaten. She was fantastic in the third, hitting backhand winners and using a 103 mph serve to fight her way back against the reigning Wimbledon champion.
Barty had not dropped a set in the tournament but was sloppy from the start. She made 17 unforced errors in the first set and then three more when she held a 5-2 lead in the third that let Rogers back in.
The Ashe crowd roared for Rogers on every winner, and she waved her arms and exhorted the fans to get louder. The 28-year-old Rogers broke Barty twice in the third when Barty served for the match.
Rogers was overcome by emotions after finally toppling Barty following four losses this year.
“Not only moving on here in New York, which is always emotional, you know your home Slam, but just what Ash has done to me in the past,” Rogers said on ESPN. “She took me down twice in Australia in front of her home crowd, she took me down in front of my home crowd [in Charleston] and then she really embarrassed me in Madrid so I guess I just really wanted to show her what New York could do.”
Rogers remains the last American woman in the draw, and is also rooting for the remaining American men.
“The guys are doing well, too,” she said on ESPN. “They’ve been super inspiring. Frances, Jack [Sock], Reilly just won, Brooksby [won] so good for him.
“The vibes here and everybody getting behind the Americans and supporting them is great. We had a few of the American women out of the draw this year so that was unfortunate but I’ll try to represent as best I can.”
The AP contributed reporting.