2014/10/25

Meet Alex Kuznetsov and Shelby Rogers, USTA Pro Circuit French Open Wild Card Challenge Winners

Shelby_Rogers_Semis_9-29Kuznetsov

The USTA held a conference call with Alex Kuznetsov and Shelby Rogers, the Har-Tru USTA Pro Circuit Wild Card Challenge winners, who each earned a wild card into the 2013 French Open based on results over the past three weeks on the USTA Pro Circuit. Here is the official transcript of the call from the ASAPSports site:

UNITED STATES TENNIS ASSOCIATION MEDIA CONFERENCE

May 6, 2013

Alex Kuznetsov

Shelby Rogers

AMANDA KORBA:  Thanks for joining us on the call today with Alex Kuznetsov and Shelby Rogers, the men’s and women’s winners of the Har‑Tru U.S. Pro Circuit Wild Card Challenge, winning a wild card into the 2013 French Open later this month.
The USTA and the French Tennis Federation have a reciprocal agreement in which wild cards into the 2013 French Open and US Open are exchanged.  This is the second year the USTA has held the Wild Card Challenge using the U.S. Pro Circuit events to determine the recipients.
The winner of the Wild Card Challenge was determined by the player who accumulated the greatest number of ATP and WTA ranking points at two of three USTA Pro Circuit events.  Alex earned 115 points in the challenge, winning the title in Sarasota, reaching the quarters in Savannah and Tallahassee.  Shelby earned 88 points winning the Charlottesville title and reaching the quarterfinals in Dothan.  She clinched the wild card this weekend.
Both Alex and Shelby will be making their French Open main draw debuts.  Alex reached the finals of the French Open juniors in 2004, losing to Monfils in the final.  Shelby’s last appearance in a Grand Slam was in 2010 when she won a wild card into the US Open by winning the USTA Girls 18 National Championships.
We’ll open it up for questions.

Q.  Alex, could you think back to 2004 when you were a finalist in the boys tournament at Roland Garros, give us an idea at that point where you felt your career was and maybe were you thinking back then that relatively soon you’d be in the main draw there at the French Open and what it means to you now to earn that chance to play in the main draw there.
ALEX KUZNETSOV:  Obviously, yeah, back then it was a great time for me.  I was in the finals of the juniors.  I was playing some good tennis.  Going up against Gaël Monfils, I think he was ranked No.1 in the world at that time.  We were going to be playing on Court1.  I remember I was really excited.  Had my parents and grandparents over there with me, some coaches.
Yeah, obviously it was a great time for me.  But I knew it was a long road ahead of me.  I think I had a couple ATP points at the time.  I knew after that tournament I was going to be playing a lot of futures and challengers events.
But, honestly, to think I guess it’s been almost 10 years that this will be my first French Open main draw, I would have said I’d liked to have been in a couple before now, to be honest with you.

Q.  What does it mean to you to get that chance now?
ALEX KUZNETSOV:  It means a lot.  It means all the hard work that I’ve put in is paying off.  I continue to keep working hard.  I know this is kind of the first step of many, I hope.  I look forward to continue playing some good tennis.  I look forward to getting over to Nice next week to start playing some tournaments over there, hopefully get some matches under my belt there.  Hopefully I continue playing well leading up to Roland Garros.

Q.  Alex, obviously we saw last year someone who had some major injuries, not exactly the same situation with you, the car accident.  I’m wondering if Brian Baker offered any inspiration for you in the last few months?  Obviously he was also a French Open junior finalist a long time ago, came back and made a big impact last year.
ALEX KUZNETSOV:  Brian offered a lot of encouragement to me just to see kind of what he’s been through throughout his whole career.  I had that one major injury with the car accident, but he’s a guy who has had numerous major issues with his knees and his hip and his elbow.  This is a guy that pretty much stopped playing professional tennis, became a coach in college tennis.
To see him come back the way he did, get to the final of Nice last year, go to the French Open and win a round, then play Simon tight in five sets, that gave me a lot of inspiration to see Brian do that.
I’m good friends with Brian.  He’s come down to Saddlebrook to train in the off‑season.  To see how hard he works, how much he loves the game, it’s a great thing.  I wish him more success and I hope he recovers quickly, hopefully we can do some good things on the ATP Tour together.

Q.  At 26, do you feel like there’s still a lot of road ahead of you as a professional tennis player?
ALEX KUZNETSOV:  Definitely, definitely.  I feel, honestly, that I’m playing some of the best tennis of my life.  I feel strong.  I feel fit.  I’m really looking forward to the future.  I feel like I’m on the right path right now.  I feel I’m really focused on what I need to do.  I’m looking forward to continuing to work hard.  Hopefully I can continue some good success.

Q.  What is your coaching situation right now?  You said you’re training aft Saddlebrook primarily?
ALEX KUZNETSOV:  Primarily at Saddlebrook.  I work with a guy named René Moller.  He played on the tour.  He’s from NewZealand.  He also played at the University of Auburn.  Also I’m working with Craig O’Shannessy.  He’s been helping me out these last couple months not necessarily at tournaments but over the phone.  We’ve done some video.  He’s actually going to be in Paris with me this year.

Q.  Alex, looking back at your results this year, there wasn’t too much of a sign that the big breakthrough was going to come through for the three tournaments, particular in Sarasota.  How were you able to turn it around and what was your mindset going into this whole playoff system?
ALEX KUZNETSOV:  My mindset, I wasn’t thinking about the wild card at all, to be honest with you.  I got the email from the USTA saying they were going to be doing this playoff for it with these three tournaments.  I didn’t think much of it.  I think I lost five or six matches first rounds coming into Sarasota.  I didn’t make the main draw.  I had to play qualifying.
To be honest with you, I was looking to go to Sarasota, get some confidence back.  With every match, I gained a little bit more, started playing some really good tennis midweek.  That continued even through the three weeks.  Even in Savannah, I lost to a good clay player in Hidalgo.  I was unfortunate to have a shoulder injury in Tallahassee.  I beat some good players along the way and am feeling really confident with my game right now.

Q.  Was there any particular win that you had maybe in Sarasota that you think really kind of spurred you on towards this run?
ALEX KUZNETSOV:  You know, I played a lot of good players there.  I think with every match I just gained a little more confidence.  I beat Ben Becker, who is a top 100 player.  He’s been there for a while.  I beat a good friend of mine playing some good tennis this year, Tim Smyczek, in a tight three‑setter.  Then I beat Stevie Johnson, also a really good player who has been playing some good tennis this past year.
With every match, I just got more and more confident.  I think the final really showed how well I think I’m capable of playing.  I feel I still need to work really hard to attain that level with every match.
To beat Wayne Odesnik 6‑0, 6‑2, was something I definitely didn’t expect.  I was really happy with the result.  I’m really looking forward, as I’ve been saying, to the future and continuing to work hard.

Q.  You said you went into it without thinking about the wild card.  At what point did you realize that it was within your grasp?
ALEX KUZNETSOV:  Honestly, even after I won Sarasota, I didn’t think I was going to have the wild card.  I still knew that Wayne, he’s a great clay court player, all he really needed to do was win Savannah or Tallahassee.  I think he was capable of doing that.  Also with the fields that we had in those tournaments, there’s a number of guys that could have won two weeks back‑to‑back.
Even after Sarasota, I wasn’t thinking much about it, to be honest with you.

Q.  Shelby, can you talk a little bit about your run through the three tournaments, how you were able to get things together and pull this off.
SHELBY ROGERS:  Yeah.  Going into Dothan, I was in a similar situation at Alex.  I lost six matches this year.  I hadn’t won a round since November of last year or something.  I was just trying to get some confidence back, get some matches, get some clay court tennis in.
I thankfully carried the moment over into Charlottesville.  I was playing solid tennis, I was confident with what I was doing.  Unfortunately I had to play one of my friends I think every round at that tournament, so that was a little bit tough, playing the Americans.
But, yeah, all the cards fell in my favor that week.  I came out with the title.
Then going into Indian Harbour, I lost second round there, but it was a tough situation at the end because I was just kind of waiting for people to lose because I was at the top of the points.  I was just hoping somebody wouldn’t take the title that week and pass me.
At the same time I wanted my friends to do well there.  So hopefully I’m never in that situation again.  But I got the wild card in the end and I’m really happy about it.

Q.  Historically how comfortable are you on clay?  Have you played on European red clay before?
SHELBY ROGERS:  I grew up on the green clay in the States.  I grew up in Charleston.  I was pretty much taught on the green clay.
I’ve only played two tournaments on red clay before.  I played one ITF junior event there which I won the singles and doubles, so that was a pretty special week in Costa Rica.  I played in Acapulco earlier this year and lost first‑round quallies there.
I feel pretty comfortable on the clay.  I’m confident in my game and my movement right now.  I’m just hoping for the best.  I’m ready for a good experience in France.

Q.  Have you been to Paris before?
SHELBY ROGERS:  No, I haven’t.  This will be my first time.

Q.  What’s the first thing you’re going to want to do?
SHELBY ROGERS:  I think I have to go to the Eiffel Tower, right?  A couple other sites, I guess.  Maybe see the city a little bit.  Hopefully stay on the red clay as long as I can.

Q.  Shelby, what do you contribute all the success you’ve had in the last three weeks or so?  Has there been a change in your game, coaching, anything like that other than just hard work?
SHELBY ROGERS:  No.  I honestly haven’t changed a thing.  I had a rough start to the year.  I had a lot of tough matches against good players.  I felt like I was right there in each one of them.
I guess just sticking with it, keep believing in yourself, not giving up is the hardest part.  When you’re in a slump, you can get a little frustrated, want to not work as hard, stop what you’ve been doing to get you where you’re at.
I just kept believing in the process and I knew it was going to come, but maybe not so soon, maybe not for a French Open wild card.  But you have to keep working hard every day and something good’s bound to happen.

Q.  Are you currently working with someone in particular with the USTA?
SHELBY ROGERS:  My main coach is Sylvan Guichard.  He’s a French guy that works here in Boca with the USTA.

Q.  One of the USTA coaches will be with you in Paris?
SHELBY ROGERS:  Unfortunately, Sylvan will not be able to go this year.  But I think two or three of the other USTA coaches will be over there.  They do a great job with the whole player development.  Everybody knows all the players’ games.  They can all help me out.  All the coaches are great so I’ll be in good hands.

Q.  You’ve done well in singles, but you’ve done almost as well in doubles.  What do you contribute that to and what do you think about doubles?
SHELBY ROGERS:  I think doubles is really fun.  Singles obviously is a little more important to me.  But when I go on court for doubles.  I have good partners, we have a lot of fun on court.  It’s a little more relaxed than singles.  It’s just a good time.  You get to work on your serve, you get to come in more, a little more variety in doubles.  It’s a little bit different game, but I love it.  It’s a good time.

Q.  What about your switch to training with the USTA from training at Family Circle in Charleston?  Was that a big boost for you?
SHELBY ROGERS:  I guess it’s been a couple years now since I made that decision.  It was probably one of the hardest decisions of my life, leaving my family and everyone at home, the coach I’d been with since I was seven.
But there just weren’t any players to train with in Charleston.  I had a good setup with coaching and fitness and stuff like that.  But moving to Boca, you have world‑class players every day to practice against, a nice gym, fitness trainers.  Everything is right at your fingertips.
I think it was a good move and something that I needed to do.  It definitely helped my game.  The results show that, I think.

Q.  When are you leaving for Paris?
SHELBY ROGERS:  I’m leaving Wednesday.  I’m playing a tournament before and then I’ll head over to Paris the following week.

Q.  Shelby, looking at your results the last couple years, you’re playing a lot of challengers, having some good results, cracked top 200.  I’m sure you see a lot of WTA main draw.  Do you feel in the next year or two you can get yourself to the point where you’ll be playing regular WTA events?
SHELBY ROGERS:  Absolutely, yeah, that’s definitely a goal of mine.  Going into this year, I want to be top 100 by the end of the year.  I think as a player, getting to the WTA is pretty important because you get more points in those tournaments, you can keep your ranking up a little bit easier.
Yeah, I mean, hopefully that happens as soon as possible.  But just got to take it one match at a time, one tournament at a time, hope for the best.

Q.  Game‑wise what do you feel you need to do to get to that level?
SHELBY ROGERS:  I think a big thing for me recently has been patience, not trying to do too much with my game.  I tend to pull the trigger a little bit too much.  Patience and strategy, just grinding away every point.

Q.  Alex, can you talk a little bit about what it will take for you to get the top 100 and then maybe top 50 or so?
ALEX KUZNETSOV:  I think, first off, I need to stay healthy.  That’s number one.  But then after that, kind of like what Shelby said, being consistent, playing at a consistent level week in, week out.  Obviously, nowadays with the men’s game, fitness is a big part of it.  I need to get stronger.
For me I think mentally, like I said, I just need to stay in it mentally week in, week out.  The year, it’s a long one.  I think in previous years I’ve had a few good results, then after that I’ve kind of gone away for a month or two before I had another one.  I think the main thing for me is staying in it mentally week in and week out.

Q.  Alex, I know you spend a lot of time at Saddlebrook, traveling around.  Do you get much chance to go home to Pennsylvania?
ALEX KUZNETSOV:  Yeah, I try to get up there as much as I can.  My parents and grandparents are still up there.  My best friends are up there.  I try to get up there at least once every couple months, even though it’s hard.

Q.  When you were growing up, learning how to play, who were your influences in Pennsylvania?
ALEX KUZNETSOV:  Mainly it was my dad.  My dad was kind of my main influence.  Also I worked with a guy by the name of Jason Katzer (phonetic).  He played at Ohio State.  He grew up in the area and was kind of my first tennis coach.

Q.  Could I have your thoughts on this particular process of deciding a wild card.
SHELBY ROGERS:  Yeah, I think it’s a great way of picking a wild card recipient.  It shows a little bit more the player that can be consistent with results instead of just having one good weekend or one good week.  You really have to prove yourself over three weeks, which I think is a great process.
You have to be mentally tough.  You have to bring your game throughout the whole three weeks.  I mean, it’s the same players, but you just have to win the most matches.  Ultimately, yeah, I think it’s a better way.  I’m for it.  I like it.
ALEX KUZNETSOV:  Obviously I’m for it as well because I didn’t get to play for the one in Australia.  I think they chose the players they wanted in that one.  I think this is an opportunity for the player who is playing the best tennis at the time.  You’re also competing against players from different countries, so you’re not only competing against Americans.  Obviously there’s players from South America and from Europe who grew up playing on clay, so they have a lot of experience.  You deserve the wild card if you’re able to do that.

Q.  Shelby, you beat Nicole Gibbs at the 18‑and‑under championships to get your wild card into the US Open in 2010.  You didn’t go to college.  Can you talk about that decision and what the last two or three years have been like for you grinding it out on the Pro Tour.
SHELBY ROGERS:  Yeah, I had a couple good pro tournaments and decided to officially turn pro and not go to college right out of high school.
I did the whole college visit.  I went on my official visits, went to a couple schools.  I actually probably would have gone to Clemson maybe.  I was pretty set on that.
But I really had to give myself a chance on the tour.  It’s been a dream of mine since I was a little girl.  I can always go back to school, get my degree, take classes, but I can’t always play on tour.
We have a pretty short window of time, I’d say.  And I had to give myself a chance.  I think I would have regretted it a lot if I didn’t, especially seeing some of my friends going out and trying it, as well.
I think I would have always been wanting to play for (indiscernible) in college.  I’m happy with my decision every single day.  I don’t regret a thing.

Q.  Shelby, who do you get to train with and see on a regular basis down in Boca?
SHELBY ROGERS:  We have Madison Keys, Grace Min, Jamie Hampton, Taylor Townsend, Kim Crawford, Sachia Vickery.  I hope I don’t leave anyone out.  That would be bad.

Q.  Do you train alongside them or play against them in practice matches frequently?
SHELBY ROGERS:  Yeah, we’re always rotating.  We’re drilling together.  Playing matches together.  Fitness, as well.  It depends on who is in town.  We’re always traveling, playing tournaments.  Wherever we’re here, we help each other out.  All of us girls get along pretty good.  It’s a good environment, a good peer group for all of us to improve.

Q.  You said you’ve been at Boca for two years now.
SHELBY ROGERS:  Yes.

Q.  Have you noticed in the last couple of years whether or not the tenor or intensity has changed?  A lot of recent success coming from players down there.
SHELBY ROGERS:  Yeah.  I mean, I think, you know, we’re constantly getting better as a team.  The USTA is making a lot of improvements down here.  Everybody’s working really hard.  We give 100% every day.  All the girls are putting themselves out there.
Like I said, we help each other every single day we’re here training.  We encourage each other, push each other, because we want to be the best we can be.
I think it’s really neat that we have a lot more girls training down here now.  Before there were just a few.  We were spread out all over the U.S.  It’s nice to be able to train with them and play matches because, like I said, in Charleston, I had nobody to hit with.  I had good coaches, resources, but nobody to play against.  So it’s really important to have a good group around you and people to play with.

Q.  I wanted to ask you about Har‑Tru, the surface.  As a player, would you be interested in more American tournaments on Har‑Tru?
SHELBY ROGERS:  Like I said, I grew up on the green clay, so I’m pretty comfortable with it.  I guess if I grew up on the West Coast, I’d be more of a hard court player.
I don’t know.  I mean, the women have one tournament on green clay in Charleston, which is where I’m from, so that’s nice to have that in my hometown.
I’d be all for having more tournaments on the Har‑Tru.  I think it’s a great surface.  Brings out different parts of your game.
I guess we have an advantage being on the East Coast.  I don’t know.  Everybody can travel around the country and have an equal opportunity to play on it.
ALEX KUZNETSOV:  I would be for it, but I also think being that our main Grand Slam is on hard court, there also needs to be obviously an equal amount of hard court tournaments.
Like Shelby, I also grew up playing on clay on the East Coast.  I played at a club in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, which had indoor red clay.  I hit on it a lot.
I don’t mind playing on clay, obviously.  I think it’s a good surface to start younger kids on.  I think they develop better on a clay court than they would a hard court.
But, yeah, I’d also be for it if they had a few more events.  But I’d like for them to keep some hard court tournaments, as well.
AMANDA KORBA:  Thanks today to Alex and Shelby for taking the time to talk with everybody.  Thanks for everybody on the call.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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