Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Open Gives Opportunity for Players

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Open Gives Opportunity for Players

Article excerpt

LONGBOAT KEY

SARASOTA OPEN: Last year's winner used tournament as springboard to success

The USTA Pro Circuit likes to bill itself as the pathway to bigger and better things for tennis players.

It is a series of events that gives young players an opportunity to grow or provides established players a chance to regain either dwindling confidence or prized ranking points lost because of injury.

At the age of 27, Alex Kuznet-sov knows, intimately, what a little success at the right time during a USTA Pro Circuit event can mean. Kuznetsov was scuffling along, his ranking plummeting and his confidence languishing, when he put together a scintillating week at last year's $100,000 Sarasota Open held here at The Tennis Gardens at the Longboat Key Club & Resort. It was a week that not only gave Kuznetsov his biggest title, but may have revived his career.

Forced to play in the qualifying tournament a year ago, Kuznet- sov won three matches to reach the main draw. He then won five more matches to take the Sarasota Open title, the start of a run that helped him get a spot in the French Open and eventually reach a career-high ranking of the No. 120 in the world.

"Last year was sort of a down time for me at the start of the year," Kuznetsov said Friday as he prepared to defend his title at this year's Sarasota Open. "But after the week I had here, it was a great year for me. I was in qualifying here and the next thing I know I am in the French Open."

Nobody knows what this week will bring for Kuznetsov or the rest of the 32 professional players competing for the first-place prize of $14,400 and precious 100 ranking points.

They come from all over the world. They arrive for different reasons. But they are all chasing what comes with winning -- an opportunity to further their tennis careers.

Opportunity begins today with the start of the main draw and will finish on Easter Sunday with the 2014 champion holding up the winner's trophy.

Some of the names may not be familiar to the casual tennis fan. But make no mistake, it is world class tennis that is played and the results can be career-changing.

"It's funny how tennis is. One week you are down in the dumps and the next you are doing great and full of confidence," said Kuznetsov.

Entering last year's tournament ranked No. 271, Kuznetsov moved up 90 spots based on what he did here and it started a climb to the best year of his pro career.

After his win here, Kuznetsov went on to play in the French Open and also qualify for Wimbledon.

"That completed all four Grand Slams to play in, which is great," he said. "I can always look back and say I played in all of them."

But the player who reached the final of the French Open juniors a decade ago remains at a point in his pro career where he believes he can do some damage. …

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