The 2012 Winston-Salem Open may already have its first two unofficial entrants.
Champion John Isner and runner-up Julien Benneteau each lavished praise on tournament officials after Saturday’s title match, and left no doubt that they plan to return next year.
"I really don’t anticipate me skipping out on this event next year," Isner said after his 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory gave him his third career ATP World Tour title. "It’s not often you get to play this close to home."
"Yes, (I’ll come back)," Benneteau said. "I have good memories now. I’d say it is a very good tournament. The staff who is in charge of the organization is very, very nice to the players. For a first-year tournament it is a very good tournament. There are a lot of tournaments on the tour who are here for years and they are not as good as this one. It is better than a new event for sure, and I hope it will stay here for a long time."
That’s the sentiment many of the players had as they exited earlier in the week.
From top-seed and semifinalist Andy Roddick to James Blake to Marcos Baghdatis to semifinalist Robin Haase, players raved about the new Wake Forest Tennis Center, the tennis fans of the Triad, and the organization led by tournament director Bill Oakes.
"The great thing about this complex is that there are so many practice courts all together," Roddick said. "One thing players want at a tournament is practice time, especially the week before the US Open. You can come here and get all the practice in that you need. And for me personally, I have always liked coming to Winston-Salem. The fans here and the treatment we get here are great."
Roddick stopped short of saying he would return next year, which is completely understandable given his usual desire to rest up the week before the US Open. But his appearance here this year is an example of how future Winston-Salem Opens may be able to draw top players.
Roddick missed five weeks during the summer with an abdominal strain, and had played just one tournament – one match, in fact – since Wimbledon. He needed matches in order to prepare for this year’s Open, and that made Winston-Salem the ideal situation for him.
"There are always going to be guys who need matches," Roddick said. "There are always a number of reasons why somebody wants to play a tournament. Some come for points to improve their ranking. Some come because they need matches. Everyone has an agenda. So this tournament isn’t going to draw all the top names but it is going to be attractive to some of the top players."
Isner said that Roddick was the perfect example of a top player who needed to play his way into form for the US Open and used the Winston-Salem Open as his vehicle.
"He’s been hurt, he’s been on the shelf a little, and he just wanted some matches," Isner said. "That’s the best practice you can get, match practice. You can’t emulate it on the practice court."
Isner also agreed with Oakes that next year’s field could be even stronger than this year’s, which had 10 of the top 40 players and would have had a Top Ten player in Mardy Fish had Fish not found it necessary to withdraw. Stronger next year because the Olympics, which precede this tournament, will be played on grass at Wimbledon.
"With the Olympics and whatnot, there’s a shorter window because the Olympics are on grass, and guys are going to want some hardcourt matches before going to the US Open," Isner said. "So I honestly think next year’s field could be stronger. And this year’s field was a fairly strong field."