MELBOURNE, Australia – The last 48 hours, since unseeded American Tennys Sandgren reached the Australian Open quarterfinals, have been … eventful.
The dream run ended for the 26-year-old Wednesday at the hands of Hyeon Chung, a 21-year-old from Korea that Sandgren said “will be holding some trophies in the near future.”
First up, though, Sandgren had something to say about all of the social-media drama, and the trickle-down effect in the media coverage.
He walked into the main press conference room – a somewhat unusual but necessary room assignment for a losing, unseeded player with mobile phone in hand. And he said he had a statement to make.
And that he did. Sandgren read it rapid-fire from the screen of his phone. He looked up every few seconds or so at the large, predominantly male gathering in front of him. His eyes were wide, his jaw firmly set.
“You seek to put people in these little boxes so that you can order the world in your already assumed pre-conceived ideas. You strip away any individuality for the sake of demonizing by way of the collective.
With a handful of follows and some likes on Twitter, my fate has been sealed in your minds. To write an edgy story, to create sensationalist coverage, there are few lengths you wouldn’t go to to mark me as the man you desperately want me to be.
You would rather perpetuate propaganda machines instead of researching information from a host of angles and perspectives while being willing to learn, change, and grow. You dehumanize with pen and paper and turn neighbor against neighbor. In so doing, you may actually find you’re hastening the hell you wish to avoid, the hell we all wish to avoid.
It is my firm belief that the highest value must be placed on the virtue of each individual, regardless of gender, race, religion or sexual orientation. It’s my job to continue on this journey with the goal of becoming the best me I can and to embody the love Christ has for me, for I answer to Him and Him alone.”
It was … quite a speech, and a press-conference moment that you’d be hard-pressed to find a precedent for. It’s unlikely that someone advised him to do it. And it smacked of not a little bit of naiveté, because if anything it only fanned the social-media flames.
Sandgren then said he would be happy to answer questions about the tennis match. But there was a lot to process. there. The palpable silence threatened to end the press conference before it began.
But in the end, there were some tennis questions for a player who squeaked into the main draw, and got to the second Wednesday.
Sandgren’s face immediately switched the grim off and the congenial on, as he talked about the biggest professional week of his life to an international group of journalists.
These were, it should be noted, the people he had just accused of “demonizing him by way of the collective”, being sensationalistic, and “dehumanizing him.”
Which, generally speaking, was actually not the case. So the barbs were being aimed at the wrong target.
It was quite the moment – to say the least.
Luckily, most journalists are not the types to take too much personally.
Not handled ideally
The situation could have been better handled by a moderator taking control of the proceedings and announcing that Sandgren would make a statement, and that the questions that followed had to be limited to tennis.
That’s common practice in tennis press conferences when something controversial occurs off court.
Tennis folks would prefer anything even slightly controversial not come up at all. They’d much rather hear “What do you think about your next opponent?” a few hundred times a tournament instead.
You can go back to the time when Steffi Graf would enter the room at Wimbledon in the middle of one of her father Peter’s off-court situations. The moderator would begin the conference with something along the lines of, “In order not to cause the lady champion undue distress, questions must be limited to tennis matters only.”
In this case, Sandgren had to take it upon himself to handle the situation.
As an alternative, he could have taken a few thousand out of the big chunk of prize money he earned this week and just paid the fine for skipping the press conference. But he didn’t.
However, the clip of the American reading his opening statement was mysteriously excised from the heavily-edited official press-conference video posted shortly afterward.
Sandgren gave full credit to an opponent he believes will go very, very far.
“(Chung) is a fantastic player. … It’s such a fun challenge because he does so many cool things with how he moves and how he returns and how he plays with his forehand. So it was kind of like an extremely difficult puzzle to try to figure out. I wasn’t able to figure it out, but I enjoyed trying,” he said.
“I did a lot of really cool things today, I thought. He kind of forces you, I mean me, to kind of play on this edge where you’re kind of doing some really cool things, and then you can fall off it and make some mistakes because he’s forcing you to play so well,” he added. “So I was happy with how a lot of the match went, and then I just wasn’t able to hold on in some of the deeper moments in the sets. I was happy with how I performed today.”
New ranking, new territory
Sandgren’s ranking will rise more than 40 places, to approximately No. 55 in the world. That his schedule likely will follow a different path.
He had entered the Challenger event in Newport Beach, Calif. this week, but obviously withdrew given he was still alive at the Australian Open. He also is entered in a Challenger in Dallas next week, but it sounded Wednesday as though he will withdraw from that.
The week after that, Sandgren had planned to kick off a four-tournament tour on the red clay in South America: Quito, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro and then Sao Paulo.
For now, he doesn’t know how he’ll deal with all the changes to his tennis life – the downside of the increased focus on his social media can come with some upside in terms of potential sponsorship opportunities and, obviously, a higher quality of tournaments on his schedule.
“I have no idea. I’m going to go home and enjoy time with my family, turn off my phone, you know, just really reflect on the last two weeks, reflect where my life has gone to, where I’m at, where I am in this stage at 26, who I am as a person, who I want to continue trying to be, where I want to go in the sport, where I want to go as a man,” he said.
“I constantly try to be introspective as to what’s going on in my life. This has been a lot of information to digest in the last few weeks. So I need to take ample time to do so so I can move forward correctly.”