One of the Biggest Weeks of Tennis in Sarasota

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One of the best weeks of my year

You may have driven through downtown Sarasota earlier this month and not realized the eyes of the tennis world were focused on Payne Park.  The Elizabeth Moore Sarasota Open drew dozens of world-ranked players thousands of fans to the city’s tennis center.  It’s Florida’s third largest tennis tournament—after Miami and Delray Beach.

A player who won last year’s Australian Open doubles tournament won this year’s singles event in Sarasota. Thanasi Kokkinakis beat Zizou Bergs.  You think those names are hard to pronounce?  Try being the on-court announcer.  That’s been my job since 2013.     

Since these matches are broadcast “live” on the internet, another duty of mine is to interview the winning player moments after the match ends to a worldwide audience. Some of these players have cult followings—and families–back in their home countries and are watching closely.  A reporter from Belgium emailed me several times to get daily comments from Bergs. 

Despite eight long days, it’s one of my favorite weeks of the year.  Since my tennis club for the previous 20 years is now closed (Bath & Racquet), I don’t get a chance to see many of my old pals as easily.  The week of the tournament is like a class reunion.  It’s a fun week of seeing old friends and making new ones. 

 It’s really a treat for me—living downtown—to ride my bike each morning to the courts. Once I arrive, I grab the mic, introduce the players to the audience and then start to research the next match. And then the next match.  Even when I ride my bike home, sometimes 12 hours later in the dark, I feel like a little kid in a candy store:  riding past the palm trees away from the facility, wind in my hair, and backpack full of notes about the next day’s matches.  (I also bring my laptop to keep up with my real estate work throughout the day; I can’t unplug from the world completely!

My primary assignment is to research the players before each match, write up little bullet-point biographies about them—and read it to the audience as the players are warming up.  This year, one of the players complained to the tournament organizer about me:  He didn’t like the fact I was reading his current rank in the world.  He wanted me to read the rank that he had peaked at years earlier.

Another funny thing that happened years ago–a superstitious player said, “I heard you announce that I’m a big fan of the Miami Heat.”

I said, “I thought I read that about you in my research. Aren’t you?”

He said, “No.”

I said, “Oh, sorry about that, I’ll cross it out.”

He said, “NO, keep saying it.  I’m winning!”

One of the funniest incidents was the year I mistook one of the fans for our National Anthem singer.  (She looked just like the one we had used earlier in the week and was standing alone near the court.)  I said to her, “Okay, ready, come on?”  She and I walked toward the court, and moments before I was going to ask the crowd to stand up, she whispered, “What are we doing?” 

I said, “You’re our National Anthem singer, aren’t you?”

“No!”

Then the actual singer came along and the audience never knew what almost just happened.

It’s a fun week and I’m already looking forward to next year’s event.  It’s just another great thing about living in Sarasota.

Ray Collins is one of the top Realtors in Sarasota, an elected official in Sarasota County and a former college tennis player. 

SarasotaOpen.com

ATPtour.com

USTA.com

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