Taro Daniel epitomizes international flavor of Sarasota Open
He was born in New York to an American father and Japanese mother. He grew up in Japan, moved to Spain at the age of 14, summered in Santa Cruz, and is currently in the process of moving to Bradenton.
In a sport known for its international flavor, Taro Daniel is truly a man of the world.
Daniel is also the top-seeded player this week in the 2018 Elizabeth Moore Sarasota Open, a $100,000 USTA Pro Circuit event that gets under way Monday at the Laural Oak Country Club.
When Daniel wakes up, the 25-year-old tennis player can be excused if it takes a few seconds to remember where he is. Between multiple residences and constant travel around the world in his pursuit of ranking and prize money, Daniel is almost always on the move. Home is where he hangs his hat.
“I don’t know. It’s hard. My parents are living in Amsterdam right now,” says Daniel about where he considers home. “My girlfriend lives in Japan. And I have family in California. So it is hard, but I really don’t mind. Anyplace where my parents, girlfriend or family is … that feels like home.”
Home will soon become Bradenton, at least on a part-time basis. Daniel, who left Spain in October and did his off-season training in Japan, is in the process of establishing a residency in Florida since he spends so much time playing Challenger circuit events like the one this week on the green clay courts at Laurel Oak.
“I am kind of a backpacker right now,” Daniel says, with a shrug, about his nomadic lifestyle.
Though players from all over the world chase their dreams at tennis tournaments few epitomize that international feel than Daniel, who is recognizable on the courts for wearing his cap backwards on his head while playing.
This week nearly two-thirds of the players in the main draw of the Sarasota Open are from outside the United States and four of the 11 Americans in the 32-player field were awarded wild cards into the event. None of the four players to advance from qualifying here this weekend were Americans.
Fluent in three languages — English, Japanese and Spanish — Daniel is comfortable in almost any setting, which can be an advantage over many players when competing at some of the out-of-way sites where Challenger events are held.
“Being able to speak Spanish, I don’t feel so out of place when I am in South America, which, maybe, for an American going to Argentina or Brazil could be a little struggle,” Daniel said. “It is something I am very grateful for to have that kind of background where I lived so many places and to be able to speak three languages.”
He has clearly shown that he is comfortable on the court in any setting, having reached a career-high ranking of No. 85 in April 2016 and playing on the some of the biggest stages, including several Davis Cup matches and at the 2016 Rio Olympic summer games for Japan. In Rio, Daniel beat American Jack Sock and Britain’s Kyle Edmund before losing to Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro, who won the silver medal.
And last month Daniel, who reached the quarterfinals in 2014 at The Resort at Longboat Key Club in his only appearance in the Sarasota Open, notched one of his biggest wins on the ATP Tour last month when he beat former world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in three sets at the Indian Wells (Calif.) Masters.
“It is not an easy thing to handle when you are on the court and you start realizing you can beat him,” Daniel admitted.
Even though Daniel sensed Djokovic wasn’t at his best, it can be a daunting task to seize the moment.
“You have to make sure you play OK because if you don’t play well, he will still beat you,” he said. “I think I managed that really well.”
The result was a 7-6, 4-6, 6-1 win that will forever be on his resume.
“Even up 5-1 in the third set and he wasn’t really moving much, I still felt a little scared,” Daniel said. “You have to finish it off and I wasn’t sure if I really could.”
Despite the win over Djokovic, Daniel knows he has to focus on expanding his game so he can make a move up the rankings past his previous career high. That might mean giving up ranking points temporarily to make the move that is more permanent.
“I mean, I think I might have been able to have touched 60 at some point last year but it would have been very hard to maintain because I didn’t have any real weapons,” he said. “I was just running around and relying on other players’ mistakes.
“I have faced my first real wall, struggling and going up and down (in rankings). Everybody is so good. It is hard to jump past these guys because they are working hard to pass you.”
“I am prepared to even let my ranking drop if I have to. I want to take that risk and start adding things to my game because I feel if I don’t I will miss the chance to go higher.”
Despite the long-term approach, Daniel said there is some excitement to return to the 11th edition of the Sarasota Open, this time as the top seed.
It sort of feels like home.