By Matt Hill
The closest thing to a local ATP Tennis Tournament is back for its second year over the mountain in Western North Carolina.
The Winston-Salem Open returns Aug. 18-25 at the Wake Forest Tennis Complex adjacent to BB&T Field.
The tournament has to be one of the best to attend. I know from experience.
Last year I went with my friend Brian Helm from Mountain City and we truly had a great time.
Though most likely players like Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal will not be playing, you do have the opportunity to see John Isner and Andy Roddick.
Last year we were able to watch Isner play in the afternoon session and it was amazing to see him hit that serve.
Now, Isner is ranked in the top 10 in the world, and is the defending champion of his home tournament.
I don’t know how it will be this year, but last year there was a lot of fan access to the players, more than I ever dreamed of. In addition to meeting Isner, we were also able to meet Andy Murray’s brother, Jamie Murray.
I was also able to have a conversation with the official who threw out Serena Williams in the 2009 U.S. Open.
The stadium is very intimate and there’s not a bad seat in the house. You can go online to buy tickets at www.winstonsalemopen. com/tickets or by phone at 336- 758-6409
The night sessions usually sold out last year and ESPN covers the tournament from the quarterfinals on as part of the U.S. Open Series Package. CBS will have the final.
There are food vendors at the event, but they are very expensive. Your best bet is to either get stamped out and leave for lunch or pack a lunch like we did and eat outside the stadium. Also, keep in mind it is warmer in that part of North Carolina in August than it is here, so dress appropriately. It can get extremely hot, though it wasn’t too bad when we went.
If you’re wanting to see the top four players in the world, this is not the tournament for you. However, if you want to go to a tournament where the players totally appreciate the fans, the Winston-Salem Open is one of the best tennis experiences you could have.
“With the return of warm weather, people have tennis on their minds. Fans already have been calling our office to inquire about ticket availability,” Winston- Salem Open director Bill Oakes said on the Winston-Salem Open website. “With John Isner and Andy Roddick already signed on to compete — and more to come — there will no doubt be strong demand for seats.”
BRISTOL RACQUET CLUB SET TO START SUMMER TOURNAMENTS
Summer is just around the corner, and that means the Bristol Racquet Club is set to begin tournaments.
Starting Monday, May 28 running through June 1, the Friendship Ford Open takes place and then the Food Country Open will happen a few weeks later.
Among the locals committed to the Friendship as of press time included Johnson County No. 1 seed girl Holly Adams. More locals are expected to play.
To get into the tournaments, you don’t have to be a standout player in order to play, as there are several different level groups.
“You can play according to level,” Bristol Racquet and Fitness Club U.S.T.A. Pro Todd Smith said. “You don’t have to worry about getting in over your head.”
The Racquet Club is located a couple of miles past Bristol Motor Speedway just off the Volunteer Parkway.
For more information call (423) 764-8444.
DANIELLE VINES CONTINUES TO PLAY WELL IN NATIONAL TOURNAMENTS
Danielle Vines continues to make Elizabethton proud.
The Elizabethton resident and native recently competed in two major tournaments.
The biggest one was the Girls 14’s USTA National Open and after a three-set loss to MacKenzy Middlebrooks, Vines breezed through three consolation matches. Vines also reached the finals in doubles.
Vines competed two weeks earlier in the USTA Southern Section about her age level in the 16s, where she won it.
Vines showed what a competitor she is when she won 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7-5) over Gabrielle Gerlach.
Vines had to battle, but she showed just how good endurance by pulling it off.
Vines was even more impressive in the championship match, winning over Maggie Kane 6-1, 6-0.
Good luck to Danielle the rest of the summer as she puts Elizabethton on the national tennis map.
SHOULD THE ATP/WTA PUT HUGE TOURNAMENTS ON SLATE RIGHT BEFORE GRAND SLAMS?
This is the first year I have been able to watch the lead in tournaments to the French Open and I was thinking last week, why is a big event like the Italian Open being finished just seven days before a grand slam?
The question is even more magnified on the women’s side, as Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka both pulled out because of injury. I think it’s more than that, I think they want to be rested for the French Open.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad the top players have to play each other more often than 20 some years ago, but do we really need to be having a major event right before a grand slam?
There were actually two Masters events back-to-back with Madrid and Rome being together. This week there are some minor tournaments and then the French Open.
Madrid and Rome are almost like majors. I think the answer is to make Madrid a non-mandatory event and move it to the spot where Rome is.
After the French Open, you have a quick turnaround to Wimbledon, then you have to start preparing for the U.S. Open.
There’s a catch this year as it is an Olympic year. After a similar situation of two Masters events right before the U.S. Open then it’s the Open and then after the Open there are two more Masters events and the year end championships.
I was talking on twitter to former top five player, former coach of career grand slam winner and one of the game’s all-time greats in Andre Agassi and ESPN tennis broadcaster Brad Gilbert, and I asked him about Serena dropping out of Rome and if it was more to do with saving herself for the French Open than her back issue and he thought she was playing it safe for sure.
You may think tennis players don’t have a hard job, but it is a grind. It’s similar to sportswriting when I was doing it full-time, you need breaks and you can’t keep doing stuff without a rest.
Don’t get me wrong, the Italian Open is an outstanding tournament and could even lay claim to being the fifth major, but it doesn’t need to finish right before the French Open.
There’s got to be a way to fix this. The ATP and WTA need to find a way to do it.
Matt Hill is golf and tennis columnist for the Elizabethton Star. You can reach him at email@example.com