Longboat Key’s legion of tennis enthusiasts won’t have to wait much longer to watch a few of the world’s best players compete in their backyard.
The fifth Sarasota Open comes to the Longboat Key Club & Resort’s Tennis Gardens Saturday, April 13 through Sunday, April 21. The tournament, part of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Challenger Tour, has drawn more than 30,000 spectators in previous years.
“Tournaments like this one are fantastic spectator opportunities,” said esteemed tennis coach Nick Bollettieri, who will be honored during Nick Bollettieri Day Friday, April 19. Unlike mega venues, such as Flushing Meadows for the U.S. Open or the All England Club for Wimbledon, the Tennis Gardens allows viewers to get a few feet away from the top players.
“You can actually see their expressions, how they breathe,” Bollettieri said. “That’s a rare opportunity.”
Another major opportunity: watching “the little rabbits” — the unknown players who use the Sarasota Open to put their names on the radar.
“It’s fun to see the veterans play,” Bollettieri said. “But it’s even more fun to say, years down the road, ‘I saw them when they were starting.’”
Among those vying for the title and a $100,000 purse prize:
• Reigning champion Sam Querrey, who holds the record for most consecutive service aces (10) and, last year, played a 5-hour, 31-minute match in the third round of Wimbledon, losing 15-17 in the fifth set;
• 2011 champion James Blake, ranked 90th in the world, who reached the semifinals in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the quarterfinals of the Australian Open in 2008 and the U.S. Open in 2005 and 2006;
• Six-foot, 10-inch tall Ivo Karlovic from Croatia, who holds four ATP singles titles, as well as the record for the fastest serve in professional tennis (156 mph);
• Brothers Ryan and Christian Harrison, who train at IMG Academy in Bradenton. In 2010, at age 19, Ryan Harrison defeated Ivan Ljubicic, then ranked No. 17 in the world, in the first round of the U.S. Open, making him only the second teenager to beat a top-20 opponent in a grand slam event. Christian Harrison, 18, made it to the doubles quarterfinals at the U.S. Open with his brother last year. He’s battled injuries to his wrist and hamstring, but, according to Bollettieri, “shows tremendous potential.”
The Sarasota Open also hosts a tournament with a $10,000 purse prize featuring 16 of the top Women’s Tennis Association players, including 16-year-old IMG Academy student Dasha Sharapova, cousin of the current No. 2 player in the world, Maria Sharapova.
For a daily listing of events, see sarasotaopen.org.