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Buice column — Winston-Salem open brings major tennis stars to area

Coco, Coco, Coco…

She won over the fans — first at Wimbledon and later at the U.S. Open in New York — and did the same in between those two tennis majors at, of all places, Winston-Salem.

Yes, 15-year-old teen sensation Coco Gauff, who was playing an exhibition match in the middle of the week during the Winston-Salem Open, stole the show with her performance against Ashleigh Barty, who has been the world’s No. 1 women’s player.

The result wasn’t really that important, although Gauff won a 10-point tiebreaker to take the match after the two players split sets. It actually turned out to be the biggest event of the week — along with Andy Murray making a late-minute decision to play in the men’s tournament — at the Wake Forest Tennis Complex during a week of rain- and storm-plagued matches that resulted in one night’s play being canceled due to a power outage and a couple of others that lasted to midnight and beyond.

The women’s exhibition, the first of its kind here, quickly sold out after tickets went on sale for the match on Center Court at the Wake Forest Tennis Complex. It pitted Gauff, who won three matches in the main draw at Wimbledon — including beating Venus Williams — against Barty, an Australian who won the French Open earlier this year.

Not only did they give the packed house their money’s worth by having fun on the courts with music sometimes blaring in the background while hitting world-class shots, they gave back proceeding the match by taking time with kids in the community.

And let’s remember, Coco, who flashes a winning smile along with an engaging personality, is still a kid herself.

Both headed to New York to play in the U.S. Open — and wooing fans on a much bigger stage where Coco made it to the third round in singles — after their unique pairing here and giving the local fans a night they’ll never forget.

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Ticket sales for Monday night’s headline match also went fast when Murray — a former world No. 1 player who has three Grand Slam titles and has been competing with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic among the sport’s elite — decided to play in the Winston-Salem Open.

Unfortunately, that happened to be one of the rainy nights when his match didn’t start until 10 p.m., nearly three hours after the scheduled start time.

Murray, who was coming off a second hip surgery from earlier this year, said he had heard good things about playing in Winston-Salem and wanted to come here to get in some practice time and hopefully play a couple of tournament matches as he attempts to make a comeback.

Murray’s stay was short-lived as he dropped his first match, but again, he provided a thrilling experience for local fans who turned out to see one of the all-time tennis greats.

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I’m a tennis guy, so I always look forward to the ATP World Tour 250 Event coming here in late August each year.

But I also know that the start of the football season coincides with the week of the Winston-Salem Open.

For me, that meant a Friday night home opener for my hometown team, Wake Forest — and a thrilling victory over Utah State — along with a trip to Boone the next day to see my alma mater, Appalachian State, roll over East Tennessee State.

If you haven’t been to App lately, there’s a new look at the football stadium after the demolition of the old field house, creating a large open space on the north side in advance of a much larger replacement along with additional facilities next year. And the surrounding parking lot is now a large construction zone with several new dorms being built on it.

Like many fans for both teams, I look forward to upcoming games this month against North Carolina — Sept. 13 for Carolina at Wake and Sept. 21 for App at Carolina.

Many don’t know that new UNC head coach Mack Brown got his start as a head coach at App in 1983 and still has a house in the N.C. mountains. He coached the Tar Heels to an emotional victory in its opener in Charlotte over South Carolina, prompting the 68-year-old coach to do an amazing locker room dance afterward.

If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth a Google search.