Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Wild Card Event May Be First Step to Top

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Wild Card Event May Be First Step to Top

Article excerpt


Two years ago Kei Nishikori took a small step toward the top of the men's professional tennis tour by winning the Sarasota Open.

The 22-year-old Nishikori, who has trained at IMG Academies in Bradenton for years, went from the tournament held on Longboat Key to a ranking of No. 17 in the world and icon status in his country.

This afternoon, another Japanese player who trains in Bradenton, will try to begin a similar trek.

Yoshihito Nishioka has a much longer path to travel than his mentor, but the journey is just beginning for the 16-year-old, who is ranked No. 824 in men's tennis but is the top seed of the Sarasota Open Prequalifying Tennis Tournament that begins today at the Sarasota Bath and Racquet Club.

The immediate goal is clear.

The winner of the three-day prequalifying event will receive a wild card into the qualifying tournament for the 2012 Sarasota Open. Four players from the qualifying tournament will advance to the main draw of the $100,000 USTA Pro Circuit event to be held April 14-22 at The Tennis Gardens at Longboat Key Club & Resort.

For dreamers, every journey begins with a single step.

There is something about a wild card tennis tournament that brings out players of all shapes, sizes, ages and talent levels.

Thirty-two players paid their $100 entry fee for the chance to prove they can hit with the big boys. The field for prequalifying tournament includes teaching pros, former college players, a few 40- somethings and some teenagers.

It even includes a father and son.

For 41-year-old Julien Link, who reached the final of the prequalifying tournament last year, it is another chance to see how his game shapes up against the youth of today. And this year, one of those youths will be his 14-year-old son, Joel.

Since they are in opposite halves of the draw, Julien and Joel Link are not likely to have to play against each other, but Julien Link will have to deal with one of the better young teens in the tournament when he meets Cardinal Mooney student Kevin Lyons in a first-round match set for 5 p. …

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