By John Delong
Andy Roddick was the guest of honor as the Winston-Salem Open held a luncheon for sponsors, friends and box-seat holders on Tuesday at Deacon Tower.
The former World No. 1 talked about everything from his charitable foundation to advice he has received from Andre Agassi over the years, from winning at Eastbourne recently to playing doubles at the upcoming London Olympics with defending Winston-Salem Open champion John Isner.
But most of all, Roddick talked about his love for Winston-Salem and the great experience he had at last year’s inaugural tournament.
He made his mind up to return this year only two days after last year’s tournament ended, and he delivered the good news to tournament director Bill Oakes while in New York for the US Open.
"I had a great experience last year," Roddick said. "I enjoyed myself. Great practice courts. The way the community supported the event, I felt very welcome. And my in-laws live close by. So just overall it was the right experience. Normally I take my time in figuring what my schedule’s going to be for the next year, but I thought this was an event that I certainly wanted to be a part of this year."
The second annual Winston-Salem Open will be held Aug. 18-25 at the Wake Forest Tennis Center.
Roddick has been coming to Winston-Salem since 1999, when he played in the Flow Motors Invitational. He was the top gun on three U.S. Davis Cup teams that played at Joel Coliseum – in 2001 against India, in 2007 against Spain, and in 2008 against France.
He reached the semifinals at last year’s Winston-Salem Open before losing to Isner, despite the fact that he had been out most of the summer with an abdominal strain and was playing in just his second tournament since Wimbledon.
He said that the Winston-Salem Open has a unique feel to it, thanks to good old-fashioned Southern hospitality.
"This is a nice city," Roddick said. "People appreciate you more than any other place I’ve been. I’ve had people say ‘Thanks for coming to Winston.’ You normally don’t get thanked for coming to tennis tournaments. It’s what we do. So that stuck with me and that was a big part of me wanting to come back.
"I think a lot of cities that have had tournaments for a long time feel entitled to have that tournament. The fact that it was new here in Winston and they understand tennis because we’ve been here with the Davis Cup and Mr. Flow’s event – to have something concrete now, I feel like people appreciated it. Selfishly, it was a nice thing to feel. … It’s just a fun place to be. You don’t get a lot of headaches. It’s just a really fun week."
Roddick also said he was not surprised in the least at the quality and depth of this year’s Winston-Salem Open field, which was announced on Tuesday.
No fewer than 38 of the top 68 players in the current ATP rankings have signed up to play, including No. 6 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, No. 11 Isner, No. 19 Alexandr Dolgopolov, No. 24 Marcel Granollers, No. 29 Feliciano Lopez, No. 31 Viktor Troicki and No. 32 Julien Benneteau, last year’s runner-up. The American contingent is made up of Roddick, Isner, Sam Querrey, Brian Baker and James Blake, who will receive one of the tournament’s four wildcards.
Twenty-two players in the current Top 50 have signed up to play, and the "cutoff" for guaranteed spots in the field came at No. 68. Last year, the cutoff came at No. 81, with 11 players in the Top 50.
"It’s a small world, the tennis world," Roddick said. "A lot of players talk in the locker room, and I think a lot of players share my feelings about this tournament, and that gets around pretty quick. So it’s not surprising that the cutoff is 13 spots stronger than it was last year. I don’t that’s surprising at all."
Roddick also pronounced himself fit and ready for the rest of the summer, after getting back into winning ways in recent weeks. He has battled a series of injuries basically from last summer all the way through this year’s clay-court season.
His win at Eastbourne the week before Wimbledon was a milestone, giving him tournament titles in each of the last 12 years. Only three others in the Open Era have accomplished that. He’s currently tied with Roger Federer for the longest streak among active players. He also claimed career victory No. 600 at Eastbourne, making him one of only 19 players in the Open Era to reach 600.
Roddick followed up the Eastbourne by reaching the third round at Wimbledon, so he has won seven of his last eight matches.
"Winning again was nice," Roddick said. "I think there are four of us that have won a tournament for 12 years in a row in the history of the game. It’s nice to hit milestones that people can kinda see. To get that and 600 wins which less than 20 have done that – it was nice timing for it because certainly I haven’t had many positive headlines recently. So, those numbers show that maybe I’ve been pretty good."
He reminded everyone that he still has some unfinished business ahead.
"I’m feeling good so hopefully I’ll be in prime form when I come back here," he said. "You know, I’ve won some Davis Cup ties here, but I haven’t won a tournament, so I need to complete it. That would be the complete cycle."