Without Serena Williams, the American contingent participating in this year’s Australian Open was already down their most recognizable and successful star. But there were other players waiting in the wings to continue their recent string of success like top players Sloane Stephens and Venus Williams on the women’s side, and high-ranked men’s players like Jack Sock, Sam Querrey, and John Isner on the men’s side.
So it was more than a little dispiriting when none of those players managed to even make it past the second round of the tournament. Not every loss was an upset, the draw wasn’t exactly in the Americans’ favor in some spots, but it was a shock that none of the expected players to watch managed to pull a win out. A poor showing from the US contingent all around.
While it’s not like there needs to be Americans in a tournament for it to be worth the watch, it always helps a little. Especially when the matches don’t even start until 7pm East Coast time or later and require more than a shallow interest in the players on the court to stay committed to watching late into the night. So thankfully for those patriots who like watching players representing the red, white, and blue, there have been some American surprises!
One in particular, Tennesseean Tennys Sandgren, has come out of nowhere to make the quarterfinals of the tournament and is the last American man standing in the draw. I’ve had my eye on this guy for a year or so and even I wouldn’t have expected him to be the last of the group to still be collecting checks in Melbourne. As he prepares to take on fellow surprise quarterfinalist Hyeon Chung late Tuesday night (Wednesday’s matches in Melbourne) here’s everything you need to know about Sandgren.
Year Turned Pro
Place of Birth
97. He dropped as low as the 700’s after hip surgery in 2015 but fought his way back to the Top 100. Even if he loses his next match, he should leave Australia somewhere in the 50’s which is good enough for him to consistently make the main draw of ATP tournaments. That’s great news for his career.
Highest Career Ranking
Best career result
Sandgren has two career Challenger titles to his name, in Savannah and Tempe. He’s made the finals in Tiburon, Charlottesville, and Sarasota. (For those unfamiliar, The Challenger Tour is the second-highest level in men’s tennis.) He’s also made the Round of 16 at the Citi Open in Washington, an ATP 500 event.
Best Australian open result
That would be this one. While he’s made the main draw at Roland Garros and the US Open before and lost in the first round at both, this is his first time in the main draw at Melbourne. He made it to the quarters by beating three-time Slam champion Stan Wawrinka in the second round, fellow-Challenger regular Maximilian Marterer in the third, and then 5th-seeded Dominic Thiem in the Round of 16 — the biggest win of them all, when you consider Wawrinka isn’t back to full health.
That he was able to grit that win out in five sets is a testament to his playing shape compared to where he was this time last year.
He’ll play Hyeon Chung, who beat Novak Djokovic in the Round of 16 to advance. Ranked 58th in the world, he’s also a bit of an unknown on the Slam stage so the match should be interesting even if it’s not the high-ranked players that fans thought they were going to see at this late stage of the tournament.
Sandgren went to the University of Tennessee and played tennis there along with his All-American brother Davey. That 2010 team won the SEC regular season title and the SEC tournament title that year, eventually making the NCAA tournament final. The name “Tennys” doesn’t have anything to do with Tennessee or the sport, but was after his great-grandfather (and he goes by “Sang” in casual conversation).
While he is now clean shaven and a bit more polished on the court, he used to have an incredible mustache that can only be described as “being from Tennessee.”
His favorite sports team is the Unicorns of Love League of Legends team. Yes, really. He’s said that if he wasn’t playing tennis he would be a failed pro gamer. For a few years, he didn’t travel with a coach or a trainer to save money.
He doesn’t give his own name when he orders a coffee so that people don’t ask the annoyingly obvious “do you play tennis?!”
Sandgren has some possible skeletons in the closet that have come tumbling out this tournament after going mostly unnoticed for the rest of his career. He’s favorited and retweeted Twitter content related to the alt-right, including Pizzagate, and interacted with the leaders of that end of the political spectrum. A sampling:
Dude is running Kyrgios off the court. He also tweets a lot pic.twitter.com/ObCR8BbQOE— Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) August 3, 2017
When directly asked about if he was worried about being “linked” to the alt-right in the press conference after his win over Dominic Thiem, Sandgren said,
“I mean, no. I’m not concerned about it ... Look, who you follow on Twitter I feel like doesn’t matter even a little bit. What information you see doesn’t dictate what you think or believe. I think it’s crazy to think that. I think it’s crazy to assume that, to say, ‘Oh well he’s following X person so he believes all the things that this person believes.’ I think that’s ridiculous.”
“That’s not how information works. If you watch a news channel, you wouldn’t then say that that person who’s watching the news channel thinks everything that the news channel puts out. You wouldn’t think that.”
When further asked if he supports some parts of alt-right politics, he denied it again by invoking his religious views.
“No. No I don’t. I find some of the content interesting, but no I don’t. Not at all. As a firm Christian, I don’t support things like that. I support Christ and following Him and that’s what I support.”
So now you know.
Is there another American we can compare him to?
A good comparison for Sandgren could be Sam Querrey, who also played tennis in college and has experienced varied success in Slams. But the better comparison is probably Steve Johnson, who himself went pro in 2012 after playing at USC. He’s made the third round of every Slam except for Wimbledon, at which he reached the fourth round in 2016.
Like Sandgren, Johnson’s rankings hovered in the triple digits before he was really able to break through. Now that Sandgren was able to break down a wall at one Slam, hopefully he’ll mimic Johnson’s path and reach the middle rounds of more than just Melbourne. At one point, Johnson was the top-ranked American man so the future could be very bright for the younger player here indeed.