Tennis Prose



Observing Sarasota Open Practices Today

By Scoop Malinowski

After a 35 minute scooter ride from Bradenton to the Elizabeth Moore Sarasota Open at Payne Park after a 90 minute morning hit with the former Florida no. 1 ranked 5.0 Felipe Alarcon, I got to see many ATP players practice today to get ready for next week’s Challenger tournament.

Last year’s champ Daniel Elahi Galan is still in Houston but there were many exceptional players hitting today. I did a Biofile with China’s Zhizhen Zhang during Juncheng Shang’s hitting with Hugo Dellien. Zhang is the first Chinese player to break into the ATP top 100, Shang is eighteen and the former no. 1 ITF junior and a marvel of a talent. His dad was a pro soccer player in China and his mom was a world champion table tennis player. So Shang has phenomenal genetics and you can see the extraordinary talent in his smooth movement, ball striking and ability to hit amazing shots. He’s being coached now by veteran coach Dante Bottini after an aborted stint with former ATP no. 1 Marcelo Rios didn’t pan out due to disagreements inside the team, which is run by Shang’s parents who were both present at the practice today, won by Dellien.

Shang will play Galan in the first round. Dellien drew Aleksandar Vukic.

It was nice to see Lucas Pouille hitting very well with Enzo Couacoud after missing most of three years due to elbow problems which began at 2019 Australian Open where he made the semifinal. The 29 year old Pouille, won the Davis Cup for France in a deciding match and also beat Nadal at US Open 2016 76 in the fifth set. Pouille, who did a fantastic Biofile interview with me today, will play qualies tomorrow vs. American wildcard Jibril Nettles, unranked.

Christian Harrison, looking like Rambo without a shirt hitting with his dad and coach Pat Harrison, will play main draw while older brother Ryan is in qualies and will battle Argentina’s veteran Guido Andreozzi, who he has played once before at 2015 Wimbledon qualies R1, losing 76 46 64. Christian will play alternate Genaro Alberto Olivieri in the first round.

Juan Manuel Cerundolo, who won his first ATP title at Cordoba, was playing a set with another Fila dressed player who I could not identify, and I never saw a player (Cerundolo) returning serves from just inches from the back fence. He was playing so far back he was hitting several shots within arm’s reach of the fence. I did a Biofile with Cerundolo after and also we discussed his one match of “Facing Carlos Alcaraz.”

Cerundolo will play Bjorn Fratangelo in first round main draw.

Emilio Gomez, Ecuador, was hitting with Mitchell Krueger. The guy I played this morning Felipe Alarcon’s brother Andres is a coach for Emilio Gomez. Felipe told me that Ecuadorian great and Roland Garros champ Andres Gomez is in Bradenton this week to buy his daughter a condo. But when I mentioned to Emilio of his dad would be coming to watch him at the tournament he said, “No, he’s not coming.”

A player who caught my eye today was Korea’s Seong-chan Hong, age 25 and ranked 210. He is just 5-9 but he is quicker than a cat and he doesn’t miss, just a nightmare to play. He made Couacaud look helpless for stretches, at one point the Frenchman raised his arms in mock celebration after winning a point. At the Australian Open this year the 28 year old Couacaud, won a set in the second round from champion Novak Djokovic 16 76 26 06. Hong did a Biofile with me after the practice and one of the things he said was he beat Casper Ruud in junior Masters and that was one of his greatest performances. Also the toughest for him to play is countryman Soowoo Kwon, because “every time we go backhand to backhand, I lose the point.”

The shortest guy in the main draw is Rio Noguchi of Japan, who stands 5-6. 24 year old Noguchi is ranked 209 now.

Brian Gottfried, former world no. 3, did the clinic with kids this afternoon and gave a nice motivational speech to inspire the kids about finding activities and interests that you really love.

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  • Cory · April 9, 2023 at 9:55 am

    Challenger qualifiers / practices… the real nuts & bolts, where hands get dirty and players grind it out and emerge onto the tour (or die trying). Nothing real to add from me, but great post Scoop.

    Carballes Baena today going for his first title… always an underdog, a slight favorite against Muller. starting shortly.

  • Scoop Malinowski · April 9, 2023 at 11:52 am

    Thanks Cory, it was fascinating to see all the different micro dramas and fierce competing under the guise of casual Saturday afternoon practice. I left out some details out of respect. A lot of interesting observations. Busy now posting the great Lucas Pouille Biofile…



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