Winston-Salem Open set to return after year off

The U.S. Open tuneup was canceled last year due to the pandemic

Spain's Pablo Carreno Busta, pictured during the championship match he won at the 2016 Winston-Salem Open, returns to the field for this year's event. (Chuck Burton / AP Photo)

For the first time in two years, the professional tennis world will converge on Wake Forest University for the Winston-Salem Open.

The tournament is back in its position as the final tuneup for the U.S. Open after a pandemic-mandated scrambling of the schedule last year moved the Grand Slam tournament and forced the cancellation of the Winston-Salem event.

The event will begin with qualifying at the Wake tennis complex on Aug. 21, and the main draw will compete from Aug. 22-28, with 48 players and 16 doubles teams competing.

Last year was the first time since the event started as an exhibition in Long Island in 1981 that the Open wasn’t held in some form. As it returns to what has been its home since 2011, the Winston-Salem Open will obviously have some impact from pandemic protocols as COVID cases continue to rise in the region, though the organizers are striving for business as usual in as many areas as possible.

This year’s tournament will return with full capacity for fans and offers full prize money for competitors. It was the first tennis event to announce a return to 100% in both areas.

There will still be indoor mask requirements, daily testing for key tournament personnel and limits on access for fans and media. Still, it’s about as close to normal as a sporting event has gotten since last year’s disruption.

“It was disappointing for everyone to have to step aside last year, but we knew it was the right thing to do for tennis,” said tournament director Jeff Ryan. “We know, though, our fans have a long history of being incredibly loyal and supportive of the tournament, and we can’t wait for play to begin on Aug. 21. … We are already hard at work making plans for another world-class experience for all our fans, here and around the world. We miss our fans.”

With many top players looking to hone their games before the following week’s U.S. Open, a stellar field will be headed to Winston-Salem.

The initial field was announced in late July and was headed by world No. 26 Lorenzo Sonego. It was bolstered by two wild-card entries that were announced last week.

World No. 11 Pablo Carreno Busta, who won the Winston-Salem Open in 2016 and more recently took the bronze medal in Tokyo last month, was announced as one of the four wild cards.

“We are thrilled to welcome back another former champion,” Ryan said. “Pablo has risen through the rankings and been a steady presence on tour. Our fans have responded well to him over the years, and he really makes a great addition to our strong 2021 field. He’s a terrific guy, and I know fans will enjoy watching him again.”

World No. 19 David Goffin also took a wild card as he returns from an ankle injury that has slowed him this season.

“We are thrilled David is making his return to tennis here in Winston-Salem. We have enjoyed showcasing him over the years and watching him rise through the rankings,” Ryan said. “That’s one of the best things about this event from a fan’s point of view. You can see some of the best talent in the world right here in Winston-Salem’s intimate setting.”

Two more wild cards have yet to be announced, and four more players will emerge from the 16-man qualifying on Aug. 21.

The rest of the field includes Sonego and No. 37 Marin Cilic. No. 54 Francis Tiafoe is the highest-ranked American, and 2015 Winston-Salem Open champion Kevin Anderson also returns. The last two Winston-Salem runners-up — France’s Benoit Paire and American Steve Johnson — are also in the field.

The field also includes Greenville’s Tommy Paul. Ranked No. 56 in the world, he has represented the United States in the Davis Cup and at the Tokyo Olympics. With wild cards, sponsors’ exemptions and qualifiers still to be determined, Paul is the only North Carolinian in the Winston-Salem Open field.

“In addition to our field leaders, there are numerous players coming to the Winston-Salem Open who will be fun to watch,” Ryan said. “After the past year, all the players are eager to get court time and will compete at their highest levels of play. The entire 2021 field couldn’t be more exciting, and I can’t wait until professional tennis returns to Winston-Salem.”