Melzer wins after Monfils retires in Winston-Salem
Austria's Jurgen Melzer didn't want to spend a week in New York with all the craziness surrounding the start of the U.S. Open.
Instead, Melzer spent the week training and playing in the relative quiet of North Carolina — and came away with a champion's trophy and a big jump up the world rankings.
Melzer won the Winston-Salem Open title on Saturday at the Wake Forest Tennis Center after Frenchman Gael Monfils retired because of an injury early in the second set.
Melzer earned his fifth career ATP tournament title and first this season. His ranking will improve five spots to No. 27 on Monday, when the U.S. Open begins at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
"I'm playing great tennis at the moment," Melzer said. "A week ago, I wasn't a happy camper. I hadn't played well, I had been struggling. It's been the small things, but I'm getting my confidence back and playing well again. That's important, especially being a week before a Grand Slam. It's very important to get that confidence.
"I usually don't like to play the week before a slam, but this has been a perfect preparation week. Being in New York a week just gets you crazy."
The left-handed Melzer led 6-3, 2-1 after breaking Monfils' serve in the second set. During the changeover, Monfils received treatment on his left abdominal muscle and hip before opting to retire.
"I started to feel it yesterday, and today I woke up pretty sore," said Monfils, who hugged Melzer at courtside as word of his retirement was announced. "We worked on it before the match, and it wasn't pretty bad. It was sore, but I felt I could play and finish it. But I tried to serve 100 percent, and that was it."
On Friday, Monfils — who has struggled with injuries after being ranked No. 7 in 2011 — was bothered by a pulled muscle in his left side during his semifinal win against Fernando Verdasco of Spain. In the second set Saturday against Melzer, he bent over several times and struggled for velocity on his first serve.
"It was like electricity coming up (my side)," said Monfils, whose status for the U.S. Open is now unclear. "It felt like something snapped. It was that quick, and it was really painful.
"At the end, I thought 'OK, I'll fight and I'll handle it' ... but at that time, it was better to listen to my body instead of my mind."
Said Melzer: "He wasn't pulling any of his serves like he could have, but from the baseline he was playing normal. I didn't really know what was going on. He's such a great player that I was trying to focus on my thing, which I'd done pretty well this week.
"Nobody wants to win a finals like that. You want to be out there competing, but at the end of the day you take the title. I was looking forward to it. It's a pity it had to end like that."
Still, the Winston-Salem Open title marked a turnaround of sorts for the 32-year-old Melzer, once ranked as high as No. 8 in the world standings. He made it to the Round of 16 at Wimbledon last June, but an injured shoulder cost him a month away from the tour.
Since his return, Melzer had lost his first match in three straight tournaments — which led to the hiring of Spain's Galo Blanco as his coach two weeks ago — before his title run at Winston-Salem.
"He took me on in a tough moment of my career," Melzer said. "I hadn't won any matches after Wimbledon, and I played terrible at Cincinnati (the tournament before the Winston-Salem Open). But we came back the week after to sit here with the trophy."