Like I said, I only made it to the semi-finals and finals. So apart from the doubles teams, I can only speak about Jo Wilfred Tsonga, Sam Querrey, Tomas Berdych and the eventual winner, John Isner.
So this is what local support looks like, I thought, as the crowd geared up en masse to help Isner ride the wave of Berdych challenges to final victory. I have never seen a crowd as happy. Not even the folks at the US Open who seem to be trying their best to give Roddick a proper send-off, come close to the folks in North Carolina, proud as peacocks about their local hero, vocal and unrestrained in their joy.
And John basked in their love. Children and parents formed a long line of well-wishers and he patiently signed autographs. One young boy called out to him to remind him that they had met before and Isner dutifully responded, “Hey, how are you doing buddy?” My friend got in on the act and asked him to sign her fan. I looked at the scrawl afterward wondering where in there I could find either John or Isner. Truly it seemed random. But I know that it was not. Isner is too heartfelt, much too desiring to please.
But Winston-Salem as an event, needs to outgrow him. It has to attract the top men in the sport who can see the benefit of playing an event so closely scheduled to the US Open. And that remains its only possible detraction – that it is scheduled the week before the US Open. Thus far this has hurt neither Isner nor Berdych. But both Tsonga and Querrey are already out of the US Open. I can't say that I blame this on Winston-Salem because both men also lost there.
At the same time, I could get a closer look at the intelligence that goes into the crafting of a point. And I could see clearly those moments on which the outcome of a match can turn – like when Berdych went for an aggressive backhand volley on match point and ended up dumping it into the net, when a simple easy, soft play would have won him the match. That's the kind of perspective you get when you go to an event that truly gives you a close-up view of tennis. And that's why I am going back next year.
In the meantime, here are some of my favorite photos. Who knew Berdych had such a fine-looking butt?