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Jun 07, 2023

The Winston-Salem Open is making a change that will shed additional light on the Triad's annual ATP tournament.

The tournament, in conjunction with Wake Forest University, is installing LED lighting on the courts at the Wake Forest Tennis Center .

The new lights are scheduled to be up in time for the Aug. 19-26 tournament, which is held in the shadows of Truist Field football stadium.

Tournament Director Jeff Ryan said the improved lighting, which will cost "north of $600,000," is just another step in making conditions at the event as similar to those at the U.S. Open in New York, where festivities begin Aug. 28.

The ATP 250 event is already using the same type of tennis balls and on the same hard surface as the courts at the U.S. National Tennis Center, home of the U.S. Open.

"It will bring us that much more in alignment with the U.S. Open," Ryan told Triad Business Journal. "The players will definitely benefit from it."

Credit the Wake Forest football program for fast-tracking the LED lighting on the tournament's 13 courts, which include the Wake Forest tennis program's six courts.

During last year's tournament, the lights at Truist Field were on one night as Wake Forest prepared for their opening game and the TV crew noticed.

"The people in the production truck were like, 'Wow, the light's great,' " Ryan said. "That's when it really hit me we should really make that a priority."

Ryan said he expects LED lighting to become the industry standard by 2025 or 2026.

The tournament has improved facilities several times since its origin in 2011. In 2019, the $3-million-plus Harold Pollard Center with seating along Court No. 2 was added for hospitality purposes.

Conditions similar to those at the Open — plus a post-tournament flight to New York — were used by original tournament director Bill Oakes, and now Ryan, as a lure for players headed on the year's final major championship.

Ryan said the possible effect of improved lighting for the tournament was noticed a few years ago when television crew members told tournament officials about a significant difference seen when lights were on at Truist Field in preparation for an upcoming football game.

Though the tournament is still more than two months away, Ryan recently announced the event's first big-name commitments — Maxime Cressy, ranked No. 44 in the ATP world rankings, and J.J. Wolf, ranked No. 46.

The 26-year-old French-American is known for his aggressive style of play. The 6-foot-6 Cressy lost in the first round of the French Open and also dropped opening matches in his last two ATP 1000 events — the ATP's highest level — in Madrid and Rome.

Ryan said Greensboro native John Isner has not yet informed him of whether he will play. If the 6-8 Isner, who owns one of the sport's hardest serves, does play in the Triad tournament, there could be a battle of giants between he and Cressy. The 38-year-old Isner won the tournament in 2011 and 2012 as he rose into the top 10 of the world rankings, and has played in other years. Isner is currently ranked 90th.

Tickets are on sale for the tournament, which will have a purse of more than $850,000 -- up almost $90,000 from last year, when the winner received $100,475.

Ryan said no high-profile exhibitions are set for this year's tournament week. In 2019, women's stars Coco Gauff played Ashleigh Barty in a full stadium court exhibition. A Women's Tennis Association tournament in Cleveland during Winston-Salem Open week has prevented similar exhibitions in recent years.

Flow Automotive Cos. and Truist return as presenting sponsors. The next level of corporate sponsors include Atrium Health, Novant Health and Waterdrop, an Austrian hydration brand that will provide on-court hydration benches for the players. Ryan said the Winston-Salem Open was one of only 10 chosen for the Waterdrop sponsorship.

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