Tennis Prose



Sandgren’s Heartbreak Loss at AO

By Jayita A Belcourt

On Rod Laver Arena on Tuesday night in front of a packed house, all eyes were watching Tenny Sandgren at 5-4 in the fourth set, with 3 match points up his sleeve receiving serve. Everyone thought the unseeded contender was about to make history over the great Roger Federer and blitz his way into the 2020 Australian Open semi-finals. But as we all know, that did not transpire. Sandgren made three of the costliest unforced errors a tennis player could possibly make, forcing the match to go into a tiebreak. With chances again in the tiebreak, up 6-3 as his commanding lead, everyone thought the match was done and dusted.

But for what must have felt like an eternity, the American was ultimately unable to convert and watched in dismay as the match eerily turned against him in almost impossible fashion going into a fifth set. From strange crackling noises from the stadiums’ audio system to a bizarre episode with a ball kid running directly into Sandgren, it was almost like the tennis gods were trying anything to distract the rhythm and flow of the underdog to forge their golden boy, Roger Federer into the next round. And in the end, it was the former number 1 that stood miraculously tall clinching the match 6-3, 2-6, 2-6, 7-6 (8), 6-3 in an epic three-and-a-half hour battle after saving seven-match points.

Sandgrem was understandably shattered from the experience, with blank looks and bitter cold stares to the media hubbled together to probe him post-match. Clearly not there to forge new ally’s, when asked how he was feeling, all he wanted to reveal was his exhaustion saying he was “Tired. Emotionally tired. Physically tired. Just tired, yeah”.

Yes, just like Aussie John Millman (who was up 8-4 in the deciding tiebreak against Federer but ultimately lost the match), Sandgren had little to show for his efforts tonight sharing “I could just as easily be in the semis right now, but I’m not, so… Back to the drawing board, you know. Back to the drawing board. Keep working. Keep trying to improve. Maybe I’ll get another look, another shot.”

Asked about the on-court distractions, Sandgren although clearly unimpressed by what had transpired, did not want to cast blame in entirety for the heartbreaking debacle.  

“Heard somebody commentating the match as I was playing the match [in the fifth set]. That’s not ideal. That was a little distracting”

 “I’ve had to deal with plenty of things going on in my career. This [the ball-kid and audio glitches] wasn’t anything more or less than what I was accustomed to. I don’t think there was anything that was taking away from my level of play.”

“It [the ball-kid incident] stung a little bit at the time. It didn’t bother me when the point started,” Sandgren mumbled.

Yet what did bother Sandgren was the chances he left on the court and his inability to convert at the critical moments against such a formidable opponent. It’s these missed opportunities that are likely to sting and haunt for some considerable time as the 28-year-old unpacks the ifs and buts of what may have been.

“I’m sure I could have played them better, at least some of the moments better. But I didn’t, so here I am”.

“Probably had eight or nine [back-hand cross court shots] that I played pretty good, but maybe I could have opened it up a little bit more. I was hitting my backhand well the whole day. Maybe I could have done more with that. In hindsight, [I should have] played the volley to the open court. But I also didn’t want to see a classic Roger Federer running forehand passing shot. So I thought I would play it strong cross, and he hit a great pass, yeah.”

“Not encouraged right now. I have zero encouragement right now. I’m sure I’ll look back in a couple days and appreciate the tennis I played the last, what, eight, nine days. But currently just disappointed. Just disappointed.”

Unsurprisingly, in stark contrast to the heartbroken American, Federer couldn’t wipe the smile of his face. The 38-year-old was joking about how he should have been all packed and ready to go skiing in Switzerland but yet, here he was, standing in sheer disbelief for what had just evolved. Post-match, Federer said to tennis great Jim Courier “gotta get lucky sometimes, I’ll tell you that. I think I got incredibly lucky today. I don’t deserve this one, but I’m standing here, and I’m very, very happy.” And his joy continued citing how he truly believes “in miracles.”

Yes miraculous indeed. But up next, will Federer’s luck continue as he faces a very inform and focused world number 2, Novak Djokovic? The Serb, likely seeking revenge for his loss against Federer at the ATP Masters in November 2019, will be keen to play this one all out and secure his place in the finals as he bids for his 8th Australian Open title and to reclaim his position as world number 1.

Of his upcoming opponent Federer, Novak said “What he did today was really amazing. I mean, to come back and save seven match points at his age, I mean, he’s still playing such a great tennis and proving that he deserves to be up there. He’s a great fighter. Obviously I have lots of respect for him. But I’ve been feeling well on the court. I think if I continue playing the way I was throughout the tournament here and also ATP Cup, I’ve been building I think as the time passes by, in every match, I have more confidence, I feel better.”

“In the end of the day, this is my favorite court, I mean, the court where I had the most success in my career. Hopefully things can come together for me in a positive way on Thursday and I can have a chance to win,” the Serb said.

One thing for sure is that all eye’s will be watching this much anticipated semi-final matchup between the two greats.

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