BEHIND THE SCENES of the 9th Annual Sarasota Open (for non-tennis fans)


THOUSANDS OF TENNIS FANS came and went from the Lakewood Ranch tennis center in mid-April for a nine-day pro tennis tournament. This is the 2nd year it was held in “The Ranch” after moving from Longboat Key.


As tournament public address announcer, I saw a lot of tennis, but I also saw a lot of other things between the actual points that may be worth sharing. You decide.


”Where are the singles sticks? We can’t start without them? What are singles sticks?” If you were in the tournament office before the start of the first match, this is what you would have heard. You probably didn’t realize when singles matches are played, officials use “singles sticks” (picture a yardstick) that prop up either end of the net in the doubles alley. Somebody found a pair in storage, and the tournament started on schedule.


In one of the first matches, a player was gesturing toward the sidelines, clearly upset about something. I later asked the umpire why he was so upset: “He said the smoke from the hamburger grill was bothering him.” What did you tell him” “Deal with it.”


Toward the end of a match, suddenly all the umpires and a few spectators were gathered around the side of the court, staring at something just outside the fence. Turns out a two-foot long black snake had come to a rest just behind the umpire’s chair at the service line. One of the female umpires wound up being successful in shoo-ing it back into the bushes. The incident later made national news on a tennis website.


Each morning we had a National Anthem singer, but one particular morning a singer sat in the tournament office humming the first few bars of the Star Spangled Banner non-stop. She was trying to get in-tune, and we were trying to get her out of there, but she didn’t take the hint.


One of the sponsors was giving away tickets to the US Open, and asked me to ask tournament regular and iconic basketball announcer Dick Vitale to help pull the winning name out of a bag. Never one to shy away from a mic, this time the high-profile gregarious announcer said, “No thanks, I’ve been on the road 14 straight days, I’m tired.”


One of the all-time nicest players on the pro tennis tour, James McGee of Dublin, didn’t have the luck of the Irish this year. He had arranged with local player Sekou Bangroura to warm-up before his important morning match, but Bangoura forgot and McGee wound up losing the first set 6-0. By the time he warmed up in the 2nd set, it was too late. He lost 7-6 in a tie-breaker.


You may heard about the “Sports Illustrated cover jinx,” that is—many athletes featured on the front of that popular magazine often don’t perform well immediately afterwards. The Sarasota Open has its own version: The top-seed in this year’s tournament, Dennis Kudla, lost in the first round. The same thing happened last year to Tim Smyczek, and the year before to Michael Russell. If you’re ever offered 1st seed in the Sarasota Open, turn it down!


For the record, a 28-year old German player named Mischa Zverev won the tournament over Austria’s Gerald Melzer. He won $14,400 for his efforts over nine mostly sunny days in Lakewood Ranch. – Ray Collins