By John Delong, Winston-Salem Open
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - The Wake Forest Tennis Complex was the place to be in Winston-Salem on Sunday night, as a great crowd inside Stadium Court would quickly attest.
The PowerShares Series came to town and Andy Roddick, James Blake, Jim Courier and Mark Philippoussis did not disappoint.
Philippoussis won the event, beating Roddick 6-3 in a one-set final after beating Blake 7-6 (5) in the semifinals. Roddick had beat Courier 6-3 in the other semifinal.
But the real winners were the fans who got to reconnect with their long-time favorites.
“What a wonderful evening,” Philippoussis said. “I very much enjoyed it. It was a beautiful atmosphere. It really felt very much like an ATP event, so that brought back some memories. It was great to get out here with the boys.”
Philippoussis, an Aussie who won 11 ATP World Tour titles during an injury-plagued career, had been a late addition to the field, filling in for an injured Mardy Fish. He was making his first appearance in Winston-Salem, and was the only one of the four who didn’t have strong ties to the city.
“It feels good to win, but the most important thing to me is being on the court and not having pain,” Philippoussis said. “To me, that’s the amazing thing. Winning a couple of matches here and there is a bonus. I’m just grateful and thankful that I’m able to be a part of an amazing series like the PowerShares Series and getting on the court and playing the game that I love and not being in pain, as I was for a lot of years.”
Roddick has been coming to Winston-Salem since his days as a junior playing in the Flow Motors Invitational. He was the top player on U.S. Davis Cup teams that beat India in 2001, Spain in 2007 and France in 2008 at LJVM Coliseum. Then he played in the Winston-Salem Open in its first two years before he retired in 2012.
“It’s great being back here,” Roddick said. “It brings back a lot of memories. A lot of Davis Cup ties and the first couple years of this tournament, kind of thriving and doing well. Winston’s always responded to tennis, so it’s good to see everyone again. We’ve always had so much support here. The players will come and go, but it’s nice to see this is lasting.”
Roddick joked that his game wasn’t quite as good as his previous trips to Winston-Salem, back during a career that saw him reach No. 1 in the world and win the 2003 US Open. Roddick had 32 career ATP World Tour titles.
“I feel like it’s more of a comedy routine these days,” Roddick said. “But it’s so fun. I don’t think any of us feel like we deserve the right to play for people still, but for some reason people let us do it. It’s different now, because if we don’t do well I don’t think it ruins our day. But obviously given a choice between winning and losing we would rather win. We’ve been hard-wired that way since we were kids, and there’s still a lot of ego involved. But we enjoy it. We really enjoy it.”
Blake was also a member of the three Davis Cup teams and played the first three years of the WSO before he retired.
Blake said he was still amazed at the love affair that Winston-Salem tennis fans have for Roddick and himself.
“I think they saw us kind of at the beginning of our Davis Cup journey,” Blake said. “I think they appreciated how raw we were at the time and how excited we were. And then they got to see our maturation process, and every time we came back later we were still excited. We all loved being part of the Davis Cup team and we loved the atmosphere here, and I hope they realized how much fun we were having on the court.
“We used to say in the locker room that if we could play every Davis Cup tie in Winston-Salem, we would do it. I hope the fans appreciated that. I always sensed they did. We were having fun, and they were having even more fun.”
Blake also said he was thrilled that the Winston-Salem Open was having a PowerShares event.
“I’m glad they partnered this with the ATP tournament,” Blake said. “It gives me a reason to come back.”
The PowerShares Series is a 12-city tour that features players who have retired from the ATP World Tour. Besides Roddick, Blake, Courier and Philippoussis, the series includes the likes of Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, John McEnroe, Michael Chang and Fish.
“I think this is a great way for the legends of the game to stay connected to the sport in the United States,” said Courier, who played in the Flow Motors Invitational and was an assistant coach of the Davis Cup team in 2001. “I think the legends of the game, we still have a lot to give, the experience we have whether it be broadcasting or actually coming out and playing a good level of tennis. It allows fans to stay connected to people they’ve watched for a long time and seen grow up in front of their eyes. It has meant a lot to be to be with PowerShares since it began and see its success and get a chance to play alongside the ATP players and my contemporaries. I think it’s a nice balance.”