By John Delong
John Isner and Tomas Berdych are reluctantly out of this year’s Winston-Salem Open because of injuries.
But after withdrawing on Monday morning, last year’s WSO finalists made it clear that they love the tournament and plan to return in future years. And they expect this year’s tournament to turn into a wide-open affair now with any number of players capable of emerging as the champion.
Isner, the two-time defending champion who moved up to No. 14 in the latest ATP World Tour rankings on Monday, was forced to withdraw after experiencing pain in his hip flexor during his run to the finals in Cincinnati last week.
Berdych, who moved up to No. 5, felt tenderness in his right shoulder during a run to the semifinals at Cincinnati. After hitting on Monday morning at the Wake Forest Tennis Complex’s indoor courts, the decision was made to shut him down and start rehabbing prior to next week’s US Open.
"The last thing I wanted to do is pull out of this tournament, given that I’ve won it twice and have had such incredible memories and incredible support," Isner said. "Some of my best memories as a tennis player period have been at this tournament. I definitely do plan on coming back next year. I don’t see an instance where I don’t plan on playing in this tournament."
Tournament director Bill Oakes said that tournament was disappointed to lose two of its top draws, but at the same time was understanding.
"Obviously the tournament is very disheartened by this, for our fans," Oakes said. "It is a situation we obviously we wish didn’t happen. But it’s very important for us to make sure Tomas and John are healthy for the year’s final major, and we wish them the best. I know it was very tough on both of them. They both came to me personally to talk to me about it, and we respect them and we wish them nothing but the best.
"This is one of those situations that happens. It’s part of sports. It’s something you hope never happens, but we’ve been lucky over the years with our players being able to play. At the end of the day these guys are high-performance athletes and we need to make sure they’re healthy. So we’re disappointed, but we hope they get fully healed and are ready to go next week."
Isner, who beat three Top 10 opponents in his run to the finals in Cincinnati last week, said he first felt pain in his semifinal win over Novak Djokovic on Saturday. Then, the pain returned again in his 7-6, 7-6 loss to Rafael Nadal on Sunday.
He has been the most-active player on the ATP World Tour this summer – winning at Atlanta, reaching the finals in Cincinnati and Washington, and reaching the semifinals in Newport – and he figured the injury came from playing so often.
"If I had a few more days, this could possibly be different," Isner said. "But overall I feel like this is the accumulation of a lot of matches I played this summer. I don’t know of anyone who has played more matches than me since Wimbledon. I’ve played a lot of matches and the good thing is that it means I’ve been winning a lot of matches and have been playing well. But it eventually took its toll on me. It’s great to play so well prior to this event, but at the same time it hindered me enough for me not to be able to compete here."
Berdych, who had taken a wild card last Thursday, first noticed discomfort in his shoulder in his semifinal loss to Nadal in Cincinnati. He came on to Winston-Salem planning to test the shoulder and play if possible. After practicing Monday morning, the decision was made to give the shoulder rest.
"I want to know after what happens the next day, so I went to try and afterwards I decided I wouldn’t be 100 percent to go for the matches, and looking forward to the Slam it wouldn’t be a smart option to (play)," Berdych said.
The tournament now appears to be wide, wide open, especially since Isner and Berdych were in the same half of the draw.
Andreas Seppi, the No. 2 seed, is now the highest-ranked player in the field, but this opens up possibilities for the likes of Mardy Fish, who was on a course to meet Berdych in the fourth round, or Sam Querrey. Gael Monfils, Tommy Robredo, Fernando Verdasco, Juan Monaco and Alexandr Dolgopolov are in Seppi’s half of the draw.
"It’s always tough before almost every week to find one name," Berdych said. "You look at the guys who are ranked the highest and expect that they will go the furthest, but there other guys like Sam who have played well here and are playing well right now. I don’t want to name some names and have some other ones to forget, but I still think it’s going to be a lot of interesting matches. It allows more guys and more tough matches. So, as always, we’re going to see interesting tennis."