By John Delong
Winston-Salem Open tournament director Bill Oakes is back from New York, where he spent two weeks at the US Open.
It was a productive trip in more ways than one.
While in New York, Oakes accepted an award from the USTA citing the Wake Forest Tennis Center as one of its outstanding venues.
And Oakes was busy meeting with players and their agents, getting feedback on this year’s tournament and starting the recruiting process for next year.
"Everything was very positive," Oakes said. "We are excited to be honored by the USTA, and I am very pleased and optimistic about my interactions with the players and their agents."
The USTA award was a part of the annual USTA Facility Award Program, which honors facilities in a variety of categories for its overall layout, excellence of court surfaces and lights, aesthetics and other criteria. The Wake Forest Tennis Center was the only recipient in the Educational Institutional category.
Oakes received a wall plaque at the presentation ceremony, and the facility will also get an all-weather sign, certificate of award and a one-year complimentary membership to the USTA.
Oakes said that the award should be shared by the many folks who have had a hand in the construction and maintenance of the facility.
"I think it reinforces that through a collaborative effort a lot of people made a beautiful venue that should be great for years to come," Oakes said. "It’s a nice thing that shows that people do recognize the hard work that’s going on in the market."
The interaction with players and their agents provided two opportunities for Oakes. He asked for any feedback they might have about this year’s tournament, and of course he began laying the foundation for the players to return next year.
Oakes is pleased to say that the conversations went well. Extremely well.
"What I heard in New York was that the players really enjoyed themselves," he said. "I heard that time and time again. The players and agents I talked to were looking forward to coming back. I didn’t hear from one player that was not looking forward to coming back.
"We’ll see what ends up happening at the end of the day, but I thought it was really nice that I get there and nobody talks about how they don’t want to come back. Everything I heard was ‘We’re looking forward to coming back,’and that’s people from (Tomas) Berdych to (Jo-Wilfried) Tsonga. Now, until it’s done it’s not done, but my hope is that the players had such a good time that they’re going to want to return, and I don’t see any reason why they won’t."
Berdych, Tsonga and two-time champion John Isner gave this year’s tournament three Top 10 players.
Berdych more than anyone was an example of what Oakes has been stressing to players – that playing at the WSO can be perfect preparation for the US Open.
Berdych came to Winston-Salem with his confidence shaky. He had lost in the first round at Wimbledon and the Olympics, and went out in early rounds at both Toronto and Cincinnati. But he found his game again in Winston-Salem, reaching the final before losing to Isner. And then he had a marvelous Open, beating Roger Federer in the quarterfinals and advancing to the semifinals before losing to eventual champion Andy Murray.
"When Tomas beat Federer, in his post-match interview he talked about how the preparation he had during the summer put him in great position for this," Oakes said. "And part of that preparation he had was playing Winston-Salem. My hope is that players who heard that recognize that playing the week before a Grand Slam can be helpful, when you can play in an environment that makes it conducive toward your success."
Oakes said that negotiations would continue with top players, although it’s not likely that any 2013 entrants will be announced until after the turn of the year.
The feedback he has been seeking, Oakes stressed, is certainly not limited to players and agents. Now is the time for all concerned to reflect on the 2012 tournament, and to offer ideas on how to make the 2013 tournament even more fan-friendly.
"One of the things I hope people recognize is that we’re not just talking about what the players want, or what the sponsors want, we’re trying to address things for the volunteers and for the staff people that are working all the time around the clock," he said. "You can’t just focus on one particular group, you have to think of many different groups and have many balls in the air at one time."
The feedback so far has been positive from all parties – and more specific, too, which Oakes takes as a very good sign.
"When you look at the feedback we’ve gotten from between Year 1 and Year 2, last year people were providing feedback on a lot more general things, and now we’re getting a lot of feedback on specific issues involving the tournament," Oakes said. "We have things we have to work on for next year, but in general we’re very pleased by what we’ve heard. Are we perfect? Certainly not. But I think we’re moving along and people recognize that we have addressed the major concerns that have presented themselves and now we’re continuing on and we’re going to address everything."