By Matt Ankerson and Alan Wright
Photos by Bowman Gray IV
“The show must go on
Inside my heart is breaking,
My make-up may be flaking,
But my smile… still stays on”
On Monday at the Winston-Salem Open it rained (again) for the majority of the day. Play was pushed back from the original scheduled start time of noon. The first tennis balls did not make contact with racket strings until well after 4:00 PM. After some makeshift maneuvering from tournament officials on the order of play, miraculously by the onset of the night session, featuring American Sam Querrey, the first round of singles and doubles were back on track.
On a day when the weather would typically dominate headlines, disappointing news hit the social media world by the afternoon. The Winston-Salem Open’s top two world ranked players bowed out. One being two-time Winston-Salem Open champion and clearly the tournaments biggest draw for local tennis fans. Greensboro’s John Isner withdrew citing a lingering hip injury that flared up last week during his run to the finals of the Cincinnati Masters.
The tournament’s top seed Tomas Berdych was the other player to withdraw due to a shoulder injury.
Isner spoke to the media about his decision to pull out and expressed his own disappointment from not defending his championship.
“The last thing I wanted to do is pull out of this tournament, given that I’ve won it twice and have had such incredible memories and incredible support,” Isner said. “Some of my best memories as a tennis player period have been at this tournament. I definitely do plan on coming back next year. I don’t see an instance where I don’t plan on playing in this tournament.”
Tournament Director, Bill Oakes was clearly disappointed, but also understood both players’ decisions to rest up before next week’s US Open. Soon after the Isner and Berdych announcements, Oakes commented on the losing of the two big men.
“I know it was very tough on both of them. They both came to me personally to talk to me about it, and we respect them and we wish them nothing but the best. So we’re disappointed, but we hope they get fully healed and are ready to go next week.”
Look on the bright side tennis fans, there is still a host of reasons to come out to the Winston-Salem Open.
American’s James Blake, Mardy Fish, and Sam Querrey remain in the draw and will play on for another day. France’s Gael Monfils plays under the lights on Tuesday night. Monfils unique style of athleticism and speed will surely give fans in attendance valued entertainment.
On Tuesday all players remaining in the singles draw will be in action. I overheard a few refer to Tuesday at the Winston-Salem Open as “Super Tuesday.”
There are some aspects of an ATP tennis tournament played a week before a major that the casual fan might not comprehend. To do so, you must observe a tournament like our very own Winston-Salem Open from the perspective of the players.
Keep this word in mind – preparation.
It took three sets but the second ranked American behind Isner, Sam Querrery, finished off Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the feature evening match on Center Court. Querrey has endured a season of mix results, including a summer that he would rather soon forget.
“It’s been tough,” he said. “It all started with the grass court season. I had an early exit at Queen and the first round at Wimbledon. In the past I have done well in those events and it has spring boarded me to a good summer. The LA tournament is gone and I always got off to a good start there. So, you know, it’s been a little tough. Sometimes you get in a little slump. I’m hoping this week I can get out of it and then go into the Open feeling better than I’ve felt all summer.”
So what did Sam Querrey do immediately after his match. Step back on the court and hit forehands for an hour. He explained that for any success to come next week in New York his serve, and even more so, his forehand must be firing on all cylinders. So he uses this tournament to work on aspects of game so when he steps off the plane at JFK, his two biggest weapons (serve and forehand) are in top form.
Mardy Fish, on the other hand, uses this week to get some match play under his belt. Fitness can be anyone’s detriment when away from the game as long as he has in 2013. Fish needs a deep run this week against some stiff competition if he plans to advance beyond a round of two next week at the Open.
John Isner just needed the rest.
Isner played the summer of his career and taking this week off actually makes sense. Since losing in the second round at Wimbledon, Isner has played five tournaments, he has advanced to the semi-finals or better in four of them, and won the title in Atlanta a few weeks back.
Isner will need fresh legs and every ounce of energy if he plans to see the second week of the year’s final major. The US Open is a grind fest and those hard courts take a toll on the body, especially for a player that must lug around a 6’9” frame in the midst of New York summer.
Keeping things in perspective, a well-rested John Isner should advance at to the least to the 4th round at the US Open. Three wins in the main draw at the Open comes to a $93,000.00 payday. Winning the singles title at the Winston-Salem Open pays $76,900.00. See the strategy of resting this week? Just the financial implications alone make complete sense from the player’s viewpoint.
Preparation can mean something different for any one of the players at the Winston-Salem Open this week. Some need to hit extra balls after a match, some must get in game shape, and some just need a couch and a television.
Put the John Isner news behind you because there is still a healthy amount of quality tennis to take in.
must will go on….
All photographs copyright Bowman Gray IV 2013