By John Delong
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- The Winston-Salem Open is intent on making improvements to the tournament each year, and some major changes are in store for 2017 that are sure to be welcomed by players and fans alike.
Starting times for the singles semifinals on Friday have been moved from afternoon to evening, the singles final on Saturday has been pushed back to late afternoon/early evening, and the doubles final has been moved from Saturday to Friday.
It’s a way for players and fans to avoid the some of the sweltering heat that comes with holding an outdoor event in late August, and it appeals to the players in other ways as well. The doubles finalists, for example, are able to travel to New York a day earlier in their preparation for the US Open by finishing up on Friday.
“We’re always looking for ways to make the tournament better,” tournament director Bill Oakes said. “We want to provide the best possible experience for everyone. In the past we’ve done that a number of ways, from providing transportation for the players from Cincinnati to Winston-Salem to making constant improvements to the players’ lounge and dining. This year, we wanted to concentrate on the tournament infrastructure.”
The singles semifinals will be held at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Friday, instead of 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. as was the case last year. Then the singles final has been moved to 5 p.m. on Saturday, instead of last year’s starting time of 1 p.m.
“How does that help the players?” Oakes said. “Well, the players don’t want to play in the middle of the heat of the day, especially right before the Open, so being able to move both of the semifinals to evening is a great benefit to the players. And playing the singles final at 5 p.m., same thing. They’re still going to be able to get up to New York Saturday night and they’ll still have the same amount of time to prepare for the Open.”
Make no mistake, this was done with the fans in mind as well.
“Holding the semifinals on Friday afternoon was a nice idea but it just hasn’t worked for the fans,” Oakes said. “Attendance has waned a little bit, and it’s because of the heat. We sell a lot of tickets to the semifinals but sometimes it’s difficult to get people in the stands when it’s so hot. It will be an entirely different atmosphere by pushing the semifinals back to the evening.”
Moving the doubles final to 4 p.m. Friday, instead of following the singles final on Saturday as has been the case in the past, was done strictly to accommodate the players.
While the singles finalists are flown to New York in the tournament’s private jet on Saturday night, there has never been enough room on the plane for the doubles finalists, and they often don’t get to New York until Sunday on a commercial flight. That drastically cuts into their US Open prep.
Add to that the fact that often, those in the WSO doubles final are also playing singles at the US Open, and it makes for a true time crunch.
“Doubles teams get no special favors at the Open, so being able to move the final to Friday enables them to get up to New York Saturday morning, or maybe even Friday night,” Oakes said. “We’ve always taken pride in having strong doubles fields, whether you’re talking about Leander Paes or Guillermo Garcia-Lopez or Pablo Andujar or Henri Kontinen or (Pierre-Hugues) Herbert and (Nicolas) Mahut. Getting those kinds of players to come here is important to us. We think this change will help make that happen again this year.”
Starting times throughout the week will remain the same as last year. Qualifying will begin at
noon on the first Saturday, then the rest of the way sessions will begin at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. daily.