The final tournament before the U.S. Open is now complete. Jurgen Melzer is your 2013 Winston-Salem Open Champion. Fans were treated to solid tennis from a mixture of young upstarts, seasoned veterans and some threats for an upset or two this week in New York.
The week started off in anticipation of local favorite and two time defending Champion, John Isner. But Isner, along with 5th ranked Tomas Berdych, were forced to withdraw due to injury. Both wanted to maximize their health status going into the final Major of the season.
But that did not dampen the spirits of the tennis savvy Winston-Salem fans, who clearly love their tennis.
Without Isner and Berdych, one player who clearly won over the fans in Winston-Salem was Gael Monfils. The Frenchman was very likeable and fan friendly, taking time to sign autographs and complimenting the tournament and City frequently. There was always a buzz around his matches and even at the practice courts where fans seemed fixated on his workout regimen.
But Sam Querrey may have summed up the fans best by implying, "They are very pro-America". That was certainly the case in cheering for Querrrey and veteran James Blake, boisterously. Steve Johnson benefited from that in his upset of 2nd seed, Andreas Seppi.
Maybe surprisingly, the talk around the 'Draw Board' outside of Stadium Court was often centered around players such as Dmitry Tursunov and Ricardas Berankis and others who played mainly on the grandstand and side courts. Fans filled up the stands to watch Alexandr Dolgopolov and Jurgen Melzer in quaint settings, where you could literally walk by the players who were sitting during games, to find a seat.
As for the action on the court, the field became wide open after the withdrawals and upsets and it became anyone's tournament. More than anyone, Melzer seized the opportunities looking like a player who had been around the block a few times. The 32 year old employed strategies that one would expect from someone as seasoned and experienced. Those strategies paid dividends against Sam Querrey in the semifinals and Monfils in the Championship..
Unfortunately, injury reared it's ugly head for Monfils, once again. You could see hints of it in the semifinals against Dolgopolov, when he called for the trainer. I noticed grimacing by Monfils on the practice courts just prior to the Championship match. At the end of the day, it was more than he could play through. With a quick turnaround to New York, Monfils will have to recover rapidly.
For Jurgen Melzer, a Championship could not have come at a better time. After a solid run at Wimbledon, the Austrian was forced to take some time off because of an injured shoulder and his last two starts on the hard courts resulted in first round losses. When watching his consistency and ability to sculpt points, it is clear why he was once ranked in the top 10 in the World. He hopes to carry the momentum gained in Winston-Salem straight to the U.S. Open.
Once again, it's hats off to tournament director Bill Oakes. Player after player acknowledged him and the hospitality of the tournament. There is no surprise that this ATP 250 event has drawn a quality field and one that has a feel of a tournament that carries more points. No doubt, the 2014 version will again be filled with some of the top players in the World.
It was a successful and entertaining week in Winston-Salem with a good balance of quality tennis and fan friendly activities surrounding it. Wake Forest University and the City of Winston-Salem should be commended. As I walked the grounds, I was consistently approached with friendly hosts with generous hospitality. It was a pleasure to spend the week covering the event.