By Matt Ankerson and Alan Wright
“The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.”
-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
If you’ve spent any reasonable amount of time in Winston-Salem this summer, then you know all too well the presence of rain is no longer considered the exception. If it were the typical North Carolina summer, I would imagine your weather conversations would center on trying to recall the last day temperatures dipped below 90 degrees. Not this summer, in fact, today felt more like a rainy Labor Day in Portland, Maine. Not ideal conditions for an outdoor tennis tournament.
Saturday marked the official start of the 2013 Winston-Salem Open. A full slate of qualifying matches were scheduled; thirty-two in all to be exact. The singles qualifier boasted a draw of thirty-two players representing fifteen countries. The qualifying doubles tournament also began today. By days end, some players would have completed three matches. (Two singles and a double match) I tend to liken a qualifying tennis tournament to going on a job interview. Replace hour long questions being thrown your way from the hiring manager to slugging it out in a best of three sets against your opponent. The job these players are competing for is landing one of the four spots in the main draw.
Cue the rain!
By 9:30am, tournament officials made the call to move all scheduled qualifying matches to the Wake Forest Indoor Tennis Center. Play began approximately at 11:30am, keeping the schedule fairly close to the original start time of 10:00am.
Around noon the rain had subsided making it possible for a handful of main draw players such as France’s Nicolas Mahut to get in some hitting on the outdoor practice courts. Mahut will play his first round match against Lukasz Kubot of Poland on Tuesday.
Not long after watching Mahut trade forehands and backhands with his hitting partner, Seattle-like misty soft rain began pelting me from above. It was then I ventured from the practice courts to the indoor facility to take in some of the matches currently in progress. Tournament officials were still grasping at a thread of hope for some late afternoon play outdoors. However, that glimmer of optimism was soon filed under erroneous belief as the afternoon wore on and the rain’s velocity picked up. Making for all first and second round qualifying matches to remain played under the indoor facilities tin roof.
The rain did not deter the tennis faithful away on this day. Spectators were shoulder to shoulder packed in so tight, I felt like I walked into a sold out concert for an up-and-coming band on a club tour. The atmosphere had a party-like feel to it, giving way to a unique manner of viewing the action on the courts.
All eight indoor courts were in session, including a practice session between James Blake and Jack Sock. Here is what I gathered after watching ten minutes or so of Black and Sock hit. Sock hits the living crap out of the ball. This kid only knows two speeds when his racket strings make contact with the ball – hard and harder. He possesses a rocket like serve routinely reaching speeds upwards of 130 miles per hour. He topped 140 miles per hour on the serve radar at last year’s BB&T Atlanta Open. I guess that’s how the game is taught in Nebraska.
Another busy day is set for tomorrow. All eight remaining qualifiers will see actions as each winner of the four matches will lay claim to a spot in the main draw . Wake Forest sophomore, Romain Bogaerts, who received a wild card entry into the main draw, plays his first round match against Yen-Hsun Lu of Chinese Taipei. The unseeded Lu is a 12 year vetern of the tour and currently ranked 60 in the world. The match is scheduled on Center Court at 2:00 PM.
Sunday’s night session, beginning at 7:00 pm, features American Mardy Fish taking on Russian Evgeny Donskoy. Mardy Fish is a former top ten player, reaching as high as number 7 in the world in August of 2011.
The number two seed, Andreas Seppi, makes his first appearance of the tournament in the Doubles draw with partner Igor Sijsling immediately following the Fish/Donskoy match on Center Court.
Now if only the weather can show some compassion and keep things dry for tomorrow’s order of play. But then again, that might be asking a bit much in this strangest of summers in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
“If it ever stops raining,
We can dry our eyes.”
– Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes