Tennis Prose



Sarasota Open Qualies Report

Scheduled play was delayed over six hours due to heavy rainfall in the area last night and this morning. Play finally began around 6, with players hitting at around 5.

A few players caught my eye. Bruno Kuzuhara just turned 19, he won 2022 Australian Open junior singles. The Brazilian powerhouse has hit numerous times with Murray, Medvedev, Rublev, Khachanov and his dad Marcelo shared that all four were really kind and helpful to his son, who is based in Miami suburb Coconut Grove. Kuzuhara had his hands full with Moez Echarqui of Tunisia, saving two set points in the first set at 5-6, 15-40. He showed more burning desire and guts under pressure and won 76 76. Kuzuhara is being “helped” now by the former coach of Monfils and Albot, Liam Smith.

At first glance, Rio Noguchi from Japan, looks like a 4.5 player, as he’s just 5-6 but he’s a remarkable tennis wizard when you watch him play for a few points. I was drawn to interview Rio for a Facing Carlos Alcaraz book or feature, as he played the Spanish marvel four years ago. Rio and his coach Hiroyuki Kojima, who revealed that he watched the match on livestream and his memory is how Carlos hit Noguchi all over the court and off the court, out of the view of the livestream camera. I became curious about Noguchi and his coach told me that he’s worked with Rio for about a decade and the special attributes he has are that he’s very talented and especially mentally strong. When I asked to explain what about Noguchi made him believe that, he answered that he’s very smart and figures things out, like if he’s asked to fix a certain area of his game, he actually does it.

During his practice with Seong-Chan Hong, Rio was a mini dynamo darting around the court mixing up his shots and speeds, similar to how Hong plays. Hong was once the ITF no. 2 junior but didn’t like to travel a lot and so he didn’t play a lot of tournaments (he doesn’t like to travel) and his ranking of 208 isn’t where it should be, says Kojima. Rio Noguchi, now ranked 209, qualified at Japan Rakuten ATP 500 last year by beating two Japanese players and then Rankumar Ramanathan in the first round. Kojima said Noguchi just played in Mexico but had a hard time controlling the ball because of the altitude, he feels more comfortable here in Sarasota.

Noguchi will play American wildcard Toby Kodat in the first round. Hong will play a qualifier.

Lucas Pouille warmed up with Jason Kubler, the no. 1 seed and then played a total unknown qualies wildcard named Jibril Nettles of Detroit Michigan. Nettles, dressed in all white, looks like an NBA player, but though he has no ATP ranking he has a unique game. Nettles held serve to start the match and then at 1-1 engaged Pouille to a 15 minute game. He has a hard to read two hander that sometimes looks like a loopy Jim Courier baseball stroke and then other times he can rope cross court winners, which he did several times to stun Pouille. The former top ten Frenchman eventually took command and won 62 61 but it was more difficult that he anticipated. The match was played on court 7 which was a surprise as it should have been on stadium as Pouille is the biggest star name in the tournament other than Jack Sock.

(Some research shows Nettles played and lost to JJ Wolf and Jenson Brooksby ten years ago in juniors.)

Ryan Harrison took on old Wimbledon qualies rival Guido Andreozzi on stadium in a duel that started just before 9 pm. Harrison lost again to the veteran Argentine 63 63.

Donald Young is in the qualies draw as an alternate and the 33 year old ranked 611 will play American 20 year old Zachary Svajda. I asked Young about meeting Marcelo Rios, which happened last summer at Cary NC Challenger when Rios was working with Juncheng Shang. He said Rios was very nice to him and knew who he is. Young also said he tried and failed to get a Rios autograph at US Open when he was a kid but the nice encounter with Rios last summer was a nice closure.

One of the most fluid nicest one handed backhands I ever saw today belongs to Aidan Mayo. He lost his first round Q match to Frances Calvin Hemery but the teenager is a good prospect to keep an eye on.

The general feeling I hear from the players and teams is that the tournament is very well run and organized but the venue Payne Park, a public court facility, is not up to the standard of other ATP 125 Challengers.

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