(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
Damian Steiner admits he came to Winston-Salem last year a little skeptical.
And understandably so.
Steiner, who works for the ATP and serves as the Winston-Salem Open’s tournament referee, figured that there would be many kinks to be worked out at the first-year tournament..
But many of those fears turned out to be unfounded and Steiner was pleased to report back to the ATP that the tournament was solid, and in some ways outstanding. No major problems, no major issues from his viewpoint or from the players.
"We have done a lot of first-year tournaments, and I have to admit that Winston-Salem was a pretty good, let’s say, rookie tournament," Steiner said. "I think we did pretty much everything the way it was scheduled. Of course there are some little details that might need to be done a better way this year, maybe transportation, but all the basic things were done right – the courts, lights, food for the players, hospitality. All the major things were done in a really, really good way, so nothing major needs to be changed this year."
Steiner’s job basically involves being a liaison between the ATP, the players, and Winston-Salem Open tournament director Bill Oakes and his staff. If the players have a complaint, they come to Steiner. If a major issue arises, he and Oakes work through it.
As tournament referee, Steiner is also in charge of conducting the draws, setting match times, making decisions on when to halt play in the case of bad weather (as was the case on the first Saturday last year), and generally overseeing all the tournament operations.
The players, Steiner said, were genuinely impressed last year.
"When it’s a first-year tournament they’re a little bit scared, let’s say," he said. "But the impression was pretty much excellent. You’re not going to please everyone every time but most of the players were very happy and were praising Bill for the job he did."
Remember, Oakes and Co. didn’t need to merely run a first-year tournament, which is a big-enough task in itself. The 13-court Wake Forest Tennis Complex was built in a matter of seven months
"It all came together well," Steiner said. "I remember seeing pictures at six months before the tournament and it was a car park, so I have to say it was a great job. Coming from zero, you have to be on top of everything. They had the structure from the football field which were used for the locker rooms and press rooms, players lounge. But all the courts were done from zero to 100. The structures were good, the locker rooms were good, the players lounge was good. There were some bubbles on the courts but they were resurfaced, so like I said, we don’t have any complaints."
Steiner is a native of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Most of the year he works as a chair umpire at ATP events around the world. He estimates that he is works about 250 matches a year. He also serves as one of the ATP’s supervisors at some events. This week, for instance, he’ll work as a chair umpire at the Cincinnati Masters before arriving in Winston-Salem on Thursday to begin his role as tournament referee.
"Traveling around the world is a nice experience," he said. "I am on the road about half the year, I think 27 weeks is the average. I love to travel and meet people from countries all around the world. Of course it’s sad because I have family in Buenos Aires and I am traveling a lot, but we are able to balance it out."
Oakes has high praise for Steiner. The two did not know each well other before last year’s tournament, although Steiner recalls being a chair umpire at one of Oakes’ tournaments in Atlanta. But a bond developed last year and now Oakes says he wouldn’t want any other tournament referee.
"I had not had a lot of experience with him, but he came extremely highly recommended by a lot of people," Oakes said. "When he showed up, he fit in very well from the word go with our staff and was a great complement to what we do.
"His experience is very different to what we have. Spanish is his primary language and a lot of our players are Spanish speaking so it provides us an opportunity to have somebody on staff who speaks Spanish but is also working for the best interests of the tournament. He is well-respected by the Tour, by the players, and now us because we’ve had the opportunity to work with him.
"When we had to make the decision if we were going to rehire some of these folks, we immediately wanted to make sure he came back. There are other people who do that job and do it well, but we don’t want anyone else because Damian does such a great job."