By John Delong
Winston-Salem Open tournament director Bill Oakes will be on a recruiting mission of sorts in the coming days as he talks to players and agents at the Wimbledon Championships.
Oakes left for London on Thursday on what will be a five-day recruiting trip to lure top players for the second annual event, which is scheduled for Aug. 18-25 at the Wake Forest Tennis Center.
Oakes will also participate in ATP meetings, which will focus on future dates for 2014 and beyond.
This is the second year that Oakes has represented the Winston-Salem Open at Wimbledon. It will be different than last year in the sense that the WSO has now established itself as one of the top events of the Emirates Airline US Open Series and has the endorsement of many players who played in the inaugural event last year.
Last year, remember, Oakes had to sell a first-year tournament that would be played on courts that were still being built.
"It’s certainly nice going to a tournament where the players are familiar with what you’re doing, knowing the players who came last year had such a good experience," Oakes said. "It makes me feel good that I can show up and people want to talk to us and want to know about what we’re doing this year. So this trip is a really positive thing for us."
The deadline for entering the Winston-Salem Open is July 9, so potential players literally will have to make up their minds on whether to enter while at Wimbledon.
Currently, defending champion John Isner, Andy Roddick, James Blake, Kevin Anderson, Alexandr Dolgopolov and Donald Young have committed to play, and several others have indicated that they plan to commit.
Oakes said he plans to cast a wide net while in London.
"I’m going to talk to the guys that are already committed just to say hi, and I’ll talk to a lot of players to make sure they sign up before our deadline on July 9, and I’ll talk to players who are planning to play the Olympics who might need hardcourt matches going into the US Open," Oakes said. "I just want to remind those guys, hey, keep us in mind."
The Olympics end on Aug. 5, which could jeopardize some players’ ability to play in Toronto the week of Aug. 6-12. If a top player loses early in Cincinnati the following week, it might serve him well to come to Winston-Salem.
Oakes has four wildcards in hand and plans to hold onto them for that precise reason.
Last year, the Winston-Salem Open gave wildcards to Young and Ryan Harrison early in the process, then used the final two later on Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt.
"We’re going to do wildcards very differently this year," Oakes said. "Last year we were much more open to giving early wildcards, which we did to Donald and Ryan, and we held two, which wound up going to Andy and Lleyton. We turned down four people in the top 35 who made wildcard requests after July 15. So this year we may do one early wildcard, but I think we will hold the majority of our wildcards until late, because of the Olympics."
Ideally, though, players will sign up before July 9 and won’t need wildcards.
That’s the big objective of this trip.