Tennis Prose



Nine Sensational Marathons Thrill At Sarasota Open

By Scoop Malinowski

I saw world no. 183 Enzo Couacaud getting beaten in practice on Saturday by Seong-Chan Hong and Lucas Pouille both in the same day. Hong wasn’t missing anything and at one point when Couacaud won a point he threw his arms in the air in mock celebration. His fortunes later that afternoon training with Pouille weren’t much better. But the 28 year old Frenchman changed gears when it really counted. In the first round of the Elizabeth Moore Sarasota Open Couacaud beat Denis Kudla 5-1 retired, then Zhizhen Zhang 63 63 and in today’s quarterfinal vs alternate Genaro Alberto Olivieri he prevailed 62 16 76 (10-8) to set up a semi tomorrow vs. no. 5 seen Daniel Altmaier.

Sitting next to former world no. 3 Brian Gottfried in the bleachers on Tuesday afternoon watching Christian Harrison battle Olivieri in a 64 46 75 marathon, I learned an interesting story. When I asked Gottfried if he ever hit with Pete Sampras he answered that he did when Pete was around fourteen at an adidas camp at Orange Bowl. He said Pete used the two-handed backhand back then and it was a superb stroke. So extraordinary, in fact, Gottfried thinks it was a mistake by coach Pete Fischer to change Pete’s backhand to a one-hander, which was done because no one had ever won Wimbledon serving and volleying with a two-handed backhand, and Fischer’s vision for Sampras was winning Wimbledon. Gottfried is convinced Pete could have still won his majors on hard court and grass with his excellent two-handed backhand — and also the French Open. So who was actually right, Pete Fischer, a recreational player at best, or the Grand Slam champion Brian Gottfried?

Ryan Harrison was not able to advance out of the qualifying draw – he lost to Guido Andreozzi 63 63 and Christian Harrison lost first round main draw as a wildcard to Olivieri but earlier this year their dad Pat Harrison formed “Harrison Performance Training” – a new academy in Bradenton. Sister Madison is also involved, she was a collegiate player.

Though the stars who attended last year’s Sarasota Open at the new Payne Park venue haven’t attended so far this year (Tommy Haas, Marcelo Rios, Nick Bollettieri RIP, Dick Vitale), the 2023 edition has been an improvement. Ticket sales are up, crowds are bigger, and the quality of matches has been superb. Bollettieri Stadium court has showcased several sensational duels including unknown quali wildcard Tristan Boyer’s shocking three set wins vs. Lucas Pouille 75 46 63 and Jack Sock 36 64 76…

Alex Rybakov’s thrilling 57 63 64 vs. Bruno Kuzuhara…

Luca Potenza’s comeback upset of Guido Andreozzi 26 64 63 (from 1-3 down in the third set)…

Bruno Kuzuhara’s 76 76 win vs Moez Echargui (saved two set points first set)…

Bradenton resident wildcard Toby Kodat’s 63 16 75 victory vs Rio Noguchi…

Daniel Altmaier’s triumph over local Bradenton resident wildcard Martin Damm Jr. 67 63 75…

and alternate Olivieri’s 36 63 76 (7-0) win vs American veteran Bjorn Fratangelo…

and Couacaud’s 62 16 76 (8-6) win today vs. Olivieri.

There must be something about the ambiance and atmosphere of the Nick Bollettieri Stadium court that is inspiring so many excellent matches.

There has been one double bagel in the tournament – Hong’s 60 60 win vs American Zachary Svajda, on an outer court. Hong had beaten Donald Young in three sets in qualifying but was goose-egged by the Korean. I didn’t see any of this match but a friend ballboyed it and he reported that it actually seemed like a close match, he had no idea it was a double bagel until the end, as there was no scoreboard on that outer court.

The defending champion Daniel Elahi Galan of Colombia, has been in fine form all week and has not lost a set in his three matches. Galan is a tall, rangy and smooth heavy hitter with easy power and he’s been merciless in crushing teenager Jerry Shang 63 62, Boyer 64 30 ret. due to cramps (second match of day after beating Sock 76 in third), and today he beat Aussie Aleksandar Vukic 62 76. Vukic, who holds a career win vs Carlos Alcaraz (at French Open qualies 2020), demolished Camilo Ugo Carabelli 76 60 yesterday, blasting winners all over the court in the second set, in one of the most devastating displays of power tennis I’ve seen in a long time. Vukic was literally smashing winners all over the court on first balls and returns. But today Galan was dominant again, which indicates how good of a player Galan is.

Galan is ranked 92 in the world right now, his best ranking was 67 in November last year. The 26 year old six-foot-three, 159 pounder will play Thomas Machac in the semi tomorrow. Machac knocked off the top seed Jason Kubler in straight sets today.

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