Tennis Prose



Rios, Haas Thrilled By Sarasota Open

By Scoop Malinowski

One of the perplexing questions of pro tennis is why the Challenger tournaments for lower ranked, struggling players are under- promoted and thus under-supported unlike minor league baseball and hockey.

But the talent exhibited at ATP Challenger tournaments is comparable to Djokovic, Federer and Nadal, if short on starpower, the actual tennis quality, speed and power is fantastic and thrilling.

So if any ATP Challenger could spark a revival renaissance of “minor league” pro tennis across America it could be the Elizabeth Moore Sarasota Open which dazzled and awed Sarasota this week.

Marcelo Rios, the former world no. 1, swung by three days this week to watch the action and even told tournament co-owner Steve Gareleck that he was “shocked” at the atmosphere of the event and how much he enjoyed it, adding he was thankful and appreciative for the experience. Very interesting words from Rios, who competed at all the grand slams and won Masters titles in Rome, Miami, Indian Wells and Monte Carlo and according to former Grand Slam mixed doubles champion Justin Gimelstob, Rios “never said a nice word about any ATP tournaments during his career.” Rios, who rarely attends ATP tournaments since retiring, now lives five miles from the tournament venue Payne Park in downtown Sarasota.

Another very satisfied attendee of the Sarasota Open was Tommy Haas, former world no. 2 who visited the tournament on Thursday and told Gareleck he loved “the vibe” of event. Haas is now the tournament director of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.

Ticket sales were well ahead of projections and every day was a full house or close to it. Everyone I talked to had nothing but positive feedback.

Today’s final punctuated the week in style with the beauty and the beast contrast matchup of the elegant, fluid Colombian Daniel Elahi Galan vs the grinding, blue collar slugging baseliner veteran Steve Johnson.

The young matador ultimately outgraced and outsmarted the bull in the end, a fine three set triumph which filled Galan’s pockets with $14,400.

But the lasting memory of this tournament is how wonderful it would be to replicate the Sarasota Open ATP Challenger blueprint across America in places like Key Biscayne, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Denver, etc. Pro tennis is more than just the grand slams and “big three” and Sarasota proved the lower ranked players and smaller tournaments can generate community support and extraordinary buzz.

We all love the colossus of the biggest tournament super events but there also is an equal appeal of the small tournament simplicity and how it captures the essence of the purity of tennis and how it used to be presented in bygone eras.

Lead sponsor Elizabeth Moore said after the final she’s thrilled by the new energy of the tournament and the hard work of owners Gareleck and Remington Reynolds and she will continue to happily sponsor the Sarasota Open in the years to follow.

Announcer extraordinaire Ray Collins interviews Steve Johnson.

“There’s something extra special about the Sarasota Open being held in downtown Sarasota – versus another private country club. There’s an urban appeal about it,” said the tournament’s announcer Ray Collins, also a former ABC news anchor turned top ranked real estate agent in Sarasota. “The location is so central. The fans can mill around and check out all three courts. Charming. I have not heard one negative thing (from spectators) and the turnout has been excellent.” Collins has been the tournament’s official announcer and emcee for eight years and his conversational speaking style and quick wit helps define the tournament’s character. In my three decades covering all professional sports, I can’t recall any announcer who does a better job and that includes the late great Bob Sheppard at Yankee Stadium and Michael “Let’s Get Ready To Rumble” of pro boxing fame. Collins is a treasure who makes the Sarasota Open better.

Jim Diao, a spectator from nearby Longboat Key and Westchester County, New York, praised the attraction of the Sarasota Open. “Although as a New York metro resident and regular US Open attendee, I certainly enjoy the big tennis venue and quality and quantity of the Slams. But I too found Sarasota Open a refreshing venue for close-up tennis, with less harried crowds and the local setting to be excellent. Similar to the summer ATP Newport tournament at the International Tennis Hall Of Fame.”


  • Cory · April 20, 2022 at 11:55 pm

    Nice post. I loved watching this tourney on the Challenger website. The action was rife with quality…. and the draw was compelling. Some of those guys like Johnson, Sandgren etc, were top 30-40 guys. Was rooting for Johnson, who surprisingly is a decent clay player. i know he won a US tourney on clay but still you wouldn’t think his game works well on clay… his slice game has efficacy, which is big here. Johnson really needed those 90 or 120 points, whatever it was. To reconate with your primary points, there seemed to be a decent crowd there for a Challenger event. Wish Mike Cacin (sp?) was there, i love hearing his live commentary.

  • Scoop Malinowski · April 21, 2022 at 7:54 am

    Coryt, it was an excellent tournament and a popular big success too. I actually enjoyed it more than Miami Open, just can’t embrace the new venue downgrade from the previous one in Key Biscayne. Sarasota Open was simple but great and it’s going to get better. Mike C (for Cation) was not there, his replacement was a guy named Brian who had his own tent in the corner. Johnson is grinding hard to get back to top 50, not going to be easy though.



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