(Editor’s Note: This is one of a series of stories featuring players, tournament officials, sponsors, volunteers and others involved with this year’s Winston-Salem Open.)
By John Delong
Doug Roberts has a way of finding the positive in any situation, a way of looking at clouds and somehow, some way, seeing the silver lining inside.
That has made him one of the most upbeat and popular figures on the Winston-Salem tennis scene for the past four decades.
Never has it been more evident than last summer.
Roberts, one of Winston-Salem Professional Tennis’ 10 board members, underwent knee replacement surgery last June 10. Then four days later, he suffered a heart attack.
It prompted long hours of rehabilitation on both fronts, time away from his job as owner of Ski and Tennis Station on Stratford Road, and meant an abrupt end to his role heading up transportation for the Winston-Salem Open.
The silver lining?
Once the tournament rolled around, it allowed him to watch more tennis than he had ever been able to in his various volunteer roles in the past.
"I started feeling pretty strong about the time the tournament hit so I ended up going three days and almost every night when it was cooler," Roberts said. "It was like the first time I had been at a tournament when I got to actually got to watch the tournament. It was great to be able to see all my friends and watch the matches and just see how this had all come together."
The best news is that Roberts is now totally back in the fold, participating in the board’s decision-making activities and planning to head up transportation this year along with his fill-in last summer, Barbara Miller.
"I feel good," Roberts said. "I’ve got a lot more energy now and I feel significantly better. I’m really looking forward to being back with all the volunteers and all my friends and being part of everything again this year. One of the things I missed most about last year was not being around everybody."
Obviously, everyone associated with the tournament is grateful that Roberts made it through the adversity and is thrilled to have him back in the fold.
Harold Pollard, also a Winston-Salem Professional Tennis board member who has worked alongside Roberts as two of chairman Don Flow’s most-trusted aides, perhaps sums up the feelings about Roberts best.
"Doug has always been there for the professional tennis tournaments and the Davis Cup ties we have been able to bring to Winston-Salem," Pollard said. "He has worn about every hat a lead volunteer can wear, including operations, bookkeeping and especially transportation. Transportation is always among the most difficult and time-consuming jobs in the volunteer arena but Doug has always been quick to lead an incredible group of volunteers that have consistently delivered and created a first-class experience for players, media, officials and VIP folks.
"The great thing about Doug is, he sets a great example for the rest of us. He stays calm, cool and collected and makes everything fun, even when things seem a little crazy. Personally, I can say Doug and his family are one of the reasons my family got involved with professional tennis here in Winston-Salem more than 20 years ago, and he has been a fantastic partner and leader. It’s so good to have him back and doing well."
Roberts’ history of service goes back to the Tanglewood International in the early 1980s. In the time since, he has played significant roles with the Edgar B Tennis Classic, the Flow Motors Invitational and the Davis Cup ties.
Roberts marvels at the evolution.
"The first one I ever did was a USTA Challenger at Tanglewood, and to see all the generations of change, from the Edgar B to the Flow Motors to the Davis Cups to now, I mean, this is pretty unbelievable," he said. "I mean, from the Flow Motors to the Davis Cup was a noticeable step up for us, and now this is another step up. The Davis Cup was basically four days, and this is 10 days, every year.
"It’s pretty amazing to me that we’re in the same breath now with Los Angeles, Rio De Janeiro, Beijing. It’s so neat to be in that company. You’ve got to remember, there are a lot of great tennis cities, Chicago for one, that don’t have an ATP tournament."
Roberts is quick to give credit where it is deserved.
He is extremely grateful for the job that Martin did to step in and head up the transportation on short notice under difficult circumstances last year, and grateful for all the volunteers who did such an outstanding job. He notes that virtually everyone has committed to returning again this year, so the volunteer spots have filled up quickly.
And he can’t say enough about Flow, who has been the driving force behind Winston-Salem’s pursuits of the Davis Cup and the Winston-Salem Open.
"Don’s got a will about him," Roberts said. "If he decides to do it, he’s going to get it done. He’s tremendously committed to Winston-Salem and he wants something special to happen here. He wants to make Winston-Salem a great place to live. And he’s real creative.
"I’ve said it many times, thank goodness he’s a tennis player instead of a golfer, because we wouldn’t have any of this. He’s very successful because he listens and he leads, he does both. He really focuses on making things better. It’s not, ‘How can we get by?’ but ‘How can we make it special?’ That’s why you see the players driving Mercedes and Corvettes instead of just sending out 30 Honda Accords. I think that’s the thing about him, his commitment to making things special. It’s amazing what he’s been able to get done."
Roberts figures this summer will far less stressful for not only himself, but for all involved with the Winston-Salem Open. The tournament has a year under its belt. There are not pressing deadlines like there were last year when the Wake Forest Tennis Center was being constructed under a tight time line. The volunteers and sponsors are in place. There are not as many elements of the unknown. The players were pleased with the courts, the stadium and the tournament in general last year, and the early commitments of players like defending champion John Isner, Andy Roddick, James Blake, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Victor Troicki and others ensure another outstanding field.
Suffice to say, Roberts is looking forward to it.
"One thing that really jumped out at me last year was the quality of play, and how good these guys really are," he said. "I mean, even the players that you don’t know that much about. I follow tennis pretty closely and I couldn’t have told you who Julien Benneteau was before the tournament, but that Friday night semifinal between Benneteau and (Robin) Haase was amazing. Everyone there was really into it.
"It’s kinda like going to a US Open, it’s just smaller. We’ve got the two top American guns. I don’t care if Andy Roddick is ranked 18th in the world or 11th in the world, he’s Andy Roddick. Then John obviously has the local appeal and is the defending champion and is a Top 10 player now. And like I said, there will be other really, really good players. I can’t wait for the tournament to get here."