Shelby Rogers earns Volvo Car Open’s first ‘Player Who Makes a Difference’ Award
Shelby Rogers may not be able to win on the court during this week’s Volvo Car Open, as an injury is keeping her sidelined for the tournament, but she is still going home with a new title. Rogers, a hometown favorite in the Holy City who grew up crafting her tennis skills on local courts, was awarded the VCO’s first ever “Player Who Makes a Difference Award” at the South Carolina Junior Tennis Foundation Gala at the Daniel Island Club on Monday, April 2.
As a slideshow of photos documenting Rogers’ tennis career played on a screen for the audience, from her early days as a ball girl in the Volvo Car Open (formerly the Family Circle Cup) to her recent victories on the WTA Tour, VCO Tournament Director Bob Moran set the stage for Rogers’ selection.
“Everyone here knows about Shelby the ball girl,” said Moran. “…Shelby winning multiple Belton titles. Shelby winning the U.S. Hardcourts and getting that wonderful opportunity in the U.S. Open, and then Shelby having that unbelievable success on the WTA Tour. She has inspired that next generation of both young women and young men in Charleston who just want to be Shelby. It’s a great thing.”
Rogers, now 25, played in her very first Volvo Car Open at age 14, after earning a wild card entry to the qualifying rounds. She went pro in 2010 and is currently ranked No. 86 in the world. But it was Rogers’ success off the courts that prompted Moran and VCO Tournament Manager Eleanor Adams to consider her for the inaugural “Player Who Makes a Difference” honor.
“We know about Shelby’s attributes on the court, but not many of you…know all the things that Shelby does off the court,” continued Moran. “And that’s where she makes a difference.”
Moran recounted the time an injured Rogers flew to Asheville, North Carolina to support her Fed Cup team even though she couldn’t play. The time she helped with a special program for kids while taking part in the BNP Paribus Open at Indian Wells. And the accolades she is receiving from tournament representatives all over the world.
“I talked to my (fellow) tennis tournament directors from around the globe and they all say, ‘Your girl from Charleston…’ And I say, yeah, we’re very proud of our girl from Charleston. They all have the same thought – if we need something and they ask Shelby, she never says no. Ever…And that’s not just in Charleston. That’s in Austria. Germany. That’s in Indian Wells…Shelby is truly a player who makes a difference.”
Moran then directed Rogers to come up the stage and open a gift as part of her award.
“This is beautiful!” said Rogers, after opening the package to find a necklace inside. “Amazing.”
Tennis Channel Analyst, French Open champion, and Emmy Award winner Mary Carillo was also one of the speakers at the gala and provided her own insights on Rogers.
“I always thought Shelby was very special,” said Carillo to the audience. “From the first time that she had that great run at the French Open a couple of years ago. That’s when I first started paying attention to her.”
Carillo then recalled the memorable moment when Marion Bartoli conducted an emotional on-court interview with Rogers after her historic quarterfinals win in Roland Garros (the victory made Rogers the ninth player outside the Top 100 to advance to the French Open quarterfinals since 1983, according to the WTA).
“She’s doing the on-court interview and she asked you…sort of a benign question, but you burst into tears,” Carillo said, addressing Rogers. “…Everyone was weeping uncontrollably because we were just so happy for you because you are in fact a great American. So, I salute you and I congratulate you!”
After accepting her award, Rogers took part in a question and answer session with Carillo, sharing stories about her tennis career thus far. Carillo asked her about her stepfather, Jim Gabrish, a former Citadel football All-American.
“You kind of had to teach him about tennis etiquette,” Carillo told Rogers.
“It wasn’t bad,” responded Roger, smiling. “He would just cheer in between points, during the points. I remember in junior tournaments I would carry the igloo coolers onto the courts…so I could stay hydrated. And I would win a match and come off the court and walk to go stretch and all of a sudden this ice water bath comes down over me like it’s a football game!”
Rogers also shared the pride she felt at being part of the winning Fed Cup team in November 2017.
“It was unbelievable. First of all, I have to say playing for your country gives you a very different feeling…You’re not just playing for yourself, which is a big deal, but now you have your whole country, your whole team there, supporting you, and you’re all fighting for the same thing, which is a really cool feeling.”
The gala held Monday night in Rogers’ honor also had another purpose – to raise awareness about the South Carolina Junior Tennis Foundation (SCJTF), a non-profit organization founded by Jeff Wilson of MW Tennis Academy that empowers youth to achieve their college dreams through tennis. To kick off the event, Rep. Nancy Mace read a proclamation by the S.C. House of Representatives that commended the SCJTF for the work they put forth to “ensure a bright future for our state’s children.” A video then played detailing the foundation and its mission. Featured on the piece was Dalton Capobianco, one of the foundation’s beneficiaries who is now going on to play tennis at State University of New York at Oneonta.
“In short, when that story is able to happen it’s such a combination of so many factors,” said Wilson, after the video ended. “And (Dalton) said it best. He said ‘If I can do it, anyone can do it.’ We are searching for these types of situations, where we can help take young people, make sure their academics are good, and get them to a place where they can take next steps in life.”
Rogers later praised the SCJTF, Capobianco and Wilson for their efforts to motivate and inspire athletes to pursue their dreams – something she hopes to continue to do through her role at the VCO and beyond.
“It’s different being on site for the first time and not be competing in the tournament,” said Rogers, who will also be working as a correspondent for The Tennis Channel at the VCO this week. “…It gives me a lot of perspective, while recovering from my injury, but also I get to see the little kids on site…and seeing them come up to me and say ‘we love watching you, we play tennis because of you’ – that’s a big reason why I play…to inspire others…It’s a really cool platform that I have and I hope to use that as best I can.”