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Prose and Kohn

Sarasota Open tennis tournament is aces

Things to watch for and do if you attend the event this week.

Bruno Kuzuhara, 19, lost to Alex Rybakov, 26, at the Sarasota Open, but has a bright future.
Bruno Kuzuhara, 19, lost to Alex Rybakov, 26, at the Sarasota Open, but has a bright future.
Photo by Ryan Kohn
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Who's ready to watch some aces do their thing?

The Elizabeth Moore Sarasota Open is back at Payne Park Tennis Center for its 2023 iteration, the second under owners Remington Reynolds and Steve Gareleck. After a strong showing in year one, I was looking forward to experiencing it again this year, and after attending, I can say that it is still a great time. 

There are some basic upgrades made to the tournament this year. The general admission seats on the main court are closer to the action than last year, for instance. For the players, the tournament is worth more ATP points — 125, up from 100 — as well as more money, carrying $160,000 in prize money instead of $100,000. And there are things to do besides watch tennis. You can look at a collection of pieces from Art Avenue that includes works by Salvador Dali and other name-brand artists. There is also delicious food being served every day; on April 11, that meant Mademoiselle Paris, which was serving sandwiches, quiches and other delectables. 

And, of course, there are plenty of spots to get an adult beverage or two, or however many you can carry. 

You could go to the tournament and have a good time without giving the players on the court a second thought, other than clapping when one of them hits a rocket shot down the line. But I suspect that if you're reading this, you would like to at least know something about the people you're watching, looking for a good story in which to invest your rooting interest. 

If that's you, I have good news. There are compelling stories everywhere you look. 

Alex Rybakov advanced to the main draw of the Sarasota Open by beating Bruno Kuzuhara.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

Take an evening match between Alex Rybakov and Bruno Kuzuhara. Rybakov, 26, won the match (5-7, 6-3, 6-4) over Kuzuhara, 19. Rybakov, a left-handed player, has never been ranked higher than 289th in the world in the ATP Tour standings and currently sits at 386 — but after beating Kuzuhara in the tournament's second qualifying round, he's in the main draw of the tournament. That means 'Rybo,' as his ATP Tour page says he is known, has as legit a chance to win the thing as anyone else. Despite being a pro since 2019 and never having won an ATP Tour or ATP Challenger Tour event, Rybakov is alive. The Texas Christian University graduate was feeling it, too. After the match, he flashed the school's signature "Horned Frogs" hand signal to the crowd in celebration. 

But Kuzuhara, even in defeat, is a story in his own right. Kuzuhara was born in Brazil to parents of Japanese heritage, but the family moved to Coconut Creek shortly after his birth and he has American citizenship. In 2022, Kuzuhara became the fourth American men's player to win the Junior Australian Open, following Andy Roddick, Donald Young and Bradenton's Sebastian Korda. All three of those players, at some point, sat at No. 36 or higher in the ATP Tour rankings. If Kuzuhara can continue following the path that trio has laid out, he's in for a long and successful career, one where losing to Rybakov in Sarasota Open qualification is long forgotten. 

Those are just two players I happened to watch, but there are stories throughout the field. Take Denis Kudla, a player who once appeared to be a rising star in the sport, even representing the U.S. at the 2016 Rio Olympics, but has struggled in recent seasons. Could a win at the Sarasota Open be the thing Kudla needs to turn his career around? Or what about Jack Sock, who also represented the U.S. at the 2016 Olympics (and won two medals as a doubles player) and ended the 2017 season ranked No. 8 in the world in singles. Could he win his first event since that 2017 season, when he won three? 

Then there's a guy like Jason Kubler, who participated in last year's event and reached the second round before losing to Daniel Elahi Galan (who is also back after winning the whole thing). But unlike Kudla and Sock, who have recently struggled, Kubler has surged since last year's event. A year ago, he was ranked 182nd in the world; he's currently ranked 70th, and he's the No. 1 seed in this year's tournament. 

Like last year, I encourage anyone who attends the tournament during a day session to walk around and check out all the different matches happening at a single time. Locking onto one match can be fun, but it's rare to get the chance to see so many players' different styles at one time. 

You'll get to hear the differences, too. One of the best things about tournaments like these is getting insight into how players conduct themselves on the court. Some are quiet, some are less quiet. In the match I saw, both Rybakov and Kuzuhara were quite vocal. Rybakov let out an "Oh, come on!" after a shot he thought landed in play was ruled out. His plea was rewarded: the officials came together and ruled that the point should be replayed. (Rybakov lost the restarted point anyway, but that's the way it goes sometimes.) 

So go and have a great time, and pay attention to who you're watching. You never know who will become a big name in the future, be it one year or five years from now. 

The tournament runs through April 16. Ticket prices vary by date and type and can be purchased at Tournament results can be found at



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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