The Winston-Salem Open got a surprise guest on Monday when top-ranked American Mardy Fish stopped in to lend his support to the tournament.
Fish, the top-ranked American and currently No. 7 in the South African Airways ATP rankings, signed autographs at the new Wake Forest tennis complex, met with USTA members during Member Appreciation Day activities, and mingled with tournament fans and sponsors.
He was the first player to commit to the inaugural tournament last spring, but was forced to withdraw last week as a precaution against injury going into next week’s US Open.
Tournament director Bill Oakes thanked Fish for taking the time to come to Winston-Salem and lend his support.
"We want to wish Mardy congratulations on a fantastic summer winning the Olympus US Open Series," Oakes said. "Unfortunately, he is unable to play at this year’s event, but we’re so fortunate to have him showing up in Winston-Salem to show his support for the event and put his weight behind the event. I can’t tell you how excited we are for the support we’ve received from such a great person.
Fish, who was a member of U.S. Davis Cup teams that played in Winston-Salem in 2007 against Spain and in 2008 against France, said he felt it was important to come here for a day to support the tournament.
"Spending time here during the Davis Cup weeks, I got to know Don Flow, and I’ve known Bill from when he ran the Atlanta tournament," Fish said. "You develop relationships through the years."
He was apologetic that he was unable to play, but said it was vital to take a week off to get properly prepared for the US Open.
For sure, Fish has played more tournaments this summer than anyone in the Top 10. After reaching the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, he won at Atlanta, was runner-up in Los Angeles, reached the finals in Montreal, and this past week reached the semifinals in Cincinnati.
He has played 11 matches in the past three weeks.
"I signed on to play this event a long time ago, and I wasn’t in the position I am in now," he said. "I wasn’t top 10 in the world. I felt like this event could catapult me to the US Open. Obviously it’s a bummer to miss this event. I was looking forward to this maybe more than any other tournament just in the sense that it was going to be a new event, I knew who was going to be running it, I know the place, I know the area very well. This is one of my very favorite places in the world to come.
"So it’s not that I didn’t want to play. I mean, I wanted to play. But I’m in a situation right now that I’ve never been in before as a top eight seed going into our home Slam. So I want to try to rest my body as best I can and put myself in the best scenario to do well in the biggest event of the year for us as Americans."
Fish said he is having the time of his life this summer, now that he is firmly established as the top-ranked American and has already clinched the Olympus US Open Series crown.
"It’s been a blast," he said. "It’s nice to be able to step away from it and realize the hard work I’ve put in to change my career around and then reap the benefits that are coming from it. Winning the US Open Series is a great title. There’s been a lot of guys who have played year after year and never won it. I don’t think in the history of the US Open Series guys have gone just two events and won it. It’s a whole summer thing."
Fish was scheduled to fly to New York from Winston-Salem.
He’ll go with more confidence than ever, especially after his 6-3, 6-3 triumph over Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals in Cincinnati last week. He lost to Andy Murray in the semifinals.
"The biggest difference now is belief," Fish said. "I’d been in the top 10 for a few months before this summer and was kinda missing those consistent results in big tournaments. I mean, I made the semis at Miami, won a couple rounds in Rome, couple rounds at the French, quarters at Wimbledon – those are all big events – but not any finals or big wins in those events where everyone has to play.
"To be consistent you have to really believe that you belong there. And it certainly helped last Friday to beat Nadal, to really have that signature win of the summer. I was like, ‘Yeah, I won a lot of matches and yes I got to the final of Montreal which is a big event, but I didn’t beat anyone in the top 10 along the way. That’s not my fault, you play who you play.