When Shelby Rogers finished last season at No. 146, she set a rather modest goal for 2016: boosting her ranking enough to gain direct entry into Grand Slam tournaments so she wouldn’t need to go through qualifying rounds.
She managed to accomplish that for the French Open — but barely. At No. 108, the 23-year-old American was the last player admitted to the field at the time of the rankings cutoff last month.
Maybe it’s time to aim higher, because just look at her now.
By beating a seeded player at Roland Garros for the third time in a week, Rogers reached the first major quarterfinal of her nascent career with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over No. 25 Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania on Sunday. In the last 30 years, only five women ranked lower than Rogers have made it to the quarterfinals at the French Open.
“I keep reminding myself to play one point at a time and that this is just another tennis match. But that’s getting a little bit harder to do as the rounds get farther,” said the 23-year-old Rogers, who is from South Carolina.
“I have nothing to lose. I have no pressure. It’s just been a great experience here, and I want to keep enjoying it and keep pushing myself,” Rogers said. “I’m definitely outside of my comfort zone already, and I keep telling myself: You belong here. You belong here.”
She pushed Begu around the court, producing a 9-3 edge in forehand winners while using the same deep, flat groundstrokes that dictated points against her previous opponents, including No. 10 Petra Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion, and No. 17 Karolina Pliskova.
“I was way behind the baseline,” Begu said, “and she was just controlling the game.”
When it ended, Rogers dropped her racket and covered her face with both hands. Soon enough, she was crying, so much so that Rogers was handed a tissue by 2013 Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli, who conducted the on-court interview afterward.
Not that the emotional display was anything new for Rogers.
“One-hundred percent, tears all the time. Sad, happy, hungry, reading a book, watching a movie. They flow very easily,” she said through a wide smile at her news conference. “Those little puppy commercials: `Adopt a puppy.’ No, change the channel. Can’t do it.”
Only once before had Rogers even been as far as the third round at a major tournament, losing at that stage at last year’s U.S. Open as a qualifier. Otherwise, of her nine previous Grand Slam appearances, six ended in the first round, the others in the second.
Rogers’ next test comes against No. 4 Garbine Muguruza, the 2015 Wimbledon runner-up, who will be playing in her third consecutive quarterfinal at Roland Garros after overwhelming 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, 6-3, 6-4.
Two other fourth-round matches were suspended because of rain: No. 2 Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Tsvetana Pironkova, and No. 6 Simona Halep vs. 2011 U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur.
Thanks to Rogers, the United States could have multiple French Open quarterfinalists for the first time since 2004. Three other American women play in the fourth round Monday: No. 1 Serena Williams, No. 9 Venus Williams and No. 15 Madison Keys.
The last U.S. man in the draw, No. 15 John Isner, bowed out with a 7-6 (9), 6-4, 6-3 loss to No. 2 Andy Murray, now a quarterfinalist for the 20th time in his past 21 Grand Slam tournaments.
The key was the opening tiebreaker: Isner held three set points — at 6-5, 7-6 and 9-8 — but failed to convert any.
“A bit deflating,” Isner acknowledged.
At 6-5, Murray returned a 213 kph (132 mph) serve. Isner did not do much with a forehand reply, setting up Murray’s backhand passing winner.
“Went with `option D’ there,” Isner said. “A, B, and C would have been better.”
Murray next faces No. 9 Richard Gasquet of France. Gasquet advanced to his first French Open quarterfinal with a rain-interrupted 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 victory over No. 5 Kei Nishikori.
Another quarterfinal will be defending champion Stan Wawrinka against 55th-ranked Albert Ramos-Vinolas. Wawrinka beat No. 22 Viktor Troicki, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (7), 6-3, 6-2, and Ramos-Vinolas surprised No. 8 Milos Raonic, 6-2, 6-4, 6-4.
The most entertaining moment of either match might have been when Wawrinka rallied with a ball boy during a delay while Troicki was getting treatment on his right leg.
“It was nice for him, it was fun for the audience,” Wawrinka said, “and it kept me busy.”