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Winston-Salem Open takes one for the sport in losing '20 tournament to U.S. Open plan

Winston-Salem Open takes one for the sport in losing '20 tournament to U.S. Open plan

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Winston-Salem Open Singles Quarterfinals

A volunteer drys the court during a rain delay at the Winston-Salem Open tennis tournament Friday, Aug. 23, 2019, at Wake Forest Tennis Complex in Winston-Salem, N.C.

One of the highlights of the late summer the last nine years has been the Winston-Salem Open, the Triad’s only professional tennis tournament.

We'll have to wait another year. The official announcement of the 10th Winston-Salem Open's cancellation came this morning thanks to a reshuffling of the tennis schedule amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m not going to tip-toe around the fact that it’s been canceled, but we feel like this is the best move to make for the good of our sport and how important the U.S. Open is,” tournament director Jeff Ryan said this morning.

Cincinnati's Western & Southern Open ATP and WTA tournaments will move to New York City and be played just before the U.S. Open. The Western & Southern takes the Winston-Salem Open's start date of Aug. 23 and be part of a tennis bubble of back-to-back women’s and men’s tournaments at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Both events will be played without spectators.

Ultimately, the Winston-Salem Open took one for the sport amid several scenarios the ATP considered.

“We reviewed a range of models for having the Winston-Salem Open in August,” Ryan said. “But above all, we made our decision for the good of the sport of tennis. We are fully supportive of the decision to hold back-to-back events in New York and are proud to be part of the structure that will allow the New York tournaments to take place.”

Don Flow, the tournament chairman and main sponsor, said that while he was disappointed in the cancellation, seeing pro tennis again is good for everybody. The money that the U.S. Open generates gets spread throughout the country by the U.S. Tennis Association.

“When you look at the potential crisis facing tennis in America and how important the U.S. Open is with its funding of the sport throughout the country that trickles down to every city and state, it seemed to us that the most important thing we could do was make sure the U.S. Open flourishes,” Flow said.

Getting tennis moving again is the right thing to do, Ryan said.

“While this is disappointing, we want our community and supporters to know that our decision has positively impacted the single most important tennis event in the U.S.,” Ryan said. “The U.S. Open funds the grassroots tennis programs across the country. This decision has enabled it to take place.”

While the status of the tournament in Winston-Salem remained in doubt for the last two months, the possibility of spectators attending seemed low. For tennis fan Catherine Lassiter of Winston-Salem, that would have been hard.

“If there is a bright side to this, I couldn’t imagine the tournament being played and none of us hard-core tennis fans would have been able to go,” Lassister said. “That would have been painful.”

Flow agreed that the if the Winston-Salem Open would have stayed on the schedule but because of health concerns would have been forced to play without spectators wouldn’t have fit very well.

“This is a very important point, that the core of this event having a spectator-less tournament was almost a contradiction to what the Winston-Salem Open stood for,” Flow said. “As Jeff led us in the conversations about what was possible one of our primary considerations was we wanted this to be a tournament that brought the community together. So the idea some of the world’s best tennis players would be here and nobody could go watch was inconsistent with what we are about.”

Looking ahead to 2021

The Winston-Salem Open will now have more than a full year to gear up for the August 2021 tournament, which will be played again on the week before the U.S. Open.

“We are profoundly grateful for all the support the tournament receives from Winston-Salem and the surrounding communities,” Ryan said, “and we are pledging to be back, better than ever in 2021 and beyond.”

Ryan said he expects a 10th anniversary celebration to be bigger and better next August.

“One of my charges in coming here is to look and evaluate the tournament, and the 10th anniversary is a very special moment in time,” Ryan said. “The specifics are not really available yet, but we have over a year to plan and make it very memorable.”

Economic impact takes a hit

Flow said the 700 volunteers who make the tournament run smoothly will miss out this summer.

There’s also the obvious economic impact on hotels and restaurants that Flow said would be missed.

“Historically we have visitors come into Winston-Salem from just about every state and people from different countries, and it’s really a gathering of so many,” Flow said. “And it’s the event right before the U.S. Open and a lot of people come here right before going to the U.S. Open and it’s broadcast to more than 140 countries, so we’ll miss all that.”

Youth clinic will be missed

Lassiter has attended the Winston-Salem Open every year, both as a volunteer and a fan.

Lassiter, the girls tennis coach at Bishop McGuinness, and her players have volunteered at the last eight Winston-Salem Open Kids Day events.

“There are a lot of other high school teams and some college teams who have also helped out with the Kids Day, but it’s always a great event because it gets the younger generation interested in the game,” Lassiter said.

Getting a chance to see some of the best men’s tennis players in the world up close is something Lassiter will miss the most.

“You kind of take it for granted how good those guys are, and then when you see it up close you can really appreciate their talents,” Lassiter said.

Lassiter has always been sure to follow the players who were in Winston-Salem at the U.S. Open.

“It’s fun to see how far they can go in the U.S. Open after being here in Winston,” Lassiter said.

But she takes comfort in knowing the tournament will be back in 2021.

“I just love tennis, and anybody who loves it knows it’s really special to have a tournament like this in our city,” Lassiter said. “It’s just a really special event with a festive atmosphere with so much pride during that week. You see families with kids at the tournament and older adults as well, and you can sense how great of an event it is so it will definitely be missed this summer.”

Future events are possible

While losing the Winston-Salem Open for a year hurts, the city could benefit down the road.

Winston-Salem played host to the Davis Cup in 2001, '07 and ’08, and Ryan said the city would be interested in hosting again.

“We have a solid relationship with the USTA and when the opportunities for the Davis Cup present themselves again, we will be at the forefront of being considered again,” Ryan said. “We have a solid track record of hosting very successful ties in our community.”

Ryan, who worked with the USTA before taking over as tournament director of the Winston-Salem Open, says the city's reputation is strong.

“Winston-Salem stands out in the tennis community,” Ryan said. “I’ve been part of the tennis community, especially over the last 20 years with the USTA, and when the subject of Winston-Salem came up, the players have spoken highly of it. Our position and our actions speak for themselves, and I’m hopeful down the road in what we are doing will pay off in different ways.”

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