When the Australian Open draw came out, most people expected the last American male player left to be John Isner, Jack Sock, or Sam Querrey. Nobody expected it to be the 26-year-old from Gallatin, Tennessee–Tennys Sandgren. His success this week has even surprised him; after his fourth-round win over Dominic Thiem, Sandgren said: “I don’t know if this is a dream or not.” What he’s done so far this week has been career changing and shows that patience sometimes pays off for players on tour.
Sandgren’s potential was always there. He was a former #1 recruit in the U.S. and was a top 10 junior player. He decided to play collegiately at the University of Tennessee for two years before turning pro. We’ve seen players like Kevin Anderson and John Isner go the collegiate route and have had success on the pro level later in their careers, so Sandgren shouldn’t shock us if he does the same.
Sandgren has spent the majority of his professional career so far playing Futures and Challengers. Some would say it’s the “minor league” to tour level events, but as we’ve seen the quality of play in Challenger events isn’t too far off from the top of the game. In 2017 he won two Challengers, in Tempe and Sarasota. That didn’t exactly translate into wins on the ATP tour though, he won his first main draw match of his career last summer in Washington, D.C. over Go Soeda, and followed it up with a win over Nick Kyrgios after the Australian retired with a shoulder injury. He played matches in the main draws of the French Open and US Open, which had to help him coming into the Australian Open main draw.
He’s certainly made the most of his opportunity in Melbourne. Sometimes you need a little luck to go your way at tournaments like this to get your first significant breakthrough. In the second round, Sandgren faced three-time Grand Slam winner Stan Wawrinka. Wawrinka came into the tournament still recovering from knee surgery, so he was far from 100%. In the third round, Sandgren faced another player who’s had a lot of success on the Challenger tour, Maximillian Marterer. It was an excellent opportunity for both of them to get to the fourth round of a Slam, but Sandgren’s experience was key as he won in four sets. In the round of 16, Sandgren once again pulled off an upset, defeating Dominic Thiem in five sets. The American was resilient; after losing a close fourth set 9-7 in a tiebreaker he bounced back nicely to advance to the quarterfinals.
Up next for Sandgren is South Korean Hyeon Chung. Chung had an upset of his own when he knocked off six-time Australian Open champ Novak Djokovic in straight sets. After what we’ve seen from Sandgren so far, there’s no reason why he can’t defeat Chung to reach the semifinals. The two played just two weeks ago in Auckland where Chung won in three sets.
It willll be interesting to see where Tennys Sandgren’s career goes from here. The live rankings have him at #55 in the world right now, which means he won’t have to play Challengers for the time being. ESPN tennis analyst and former Top 5 player Brad Gilbert made a good point when he said the biggest strength of Sandgren’s game is that he doesn’t have any major weaknesses. His consistency has got him to this point so far, so now it’s time to see if his game can translate on the big stage.