February 29, 2024

Open Court

MORE TENNIS THAN YOU'LL EVER NEED

The road to a Slam quarterfinal – a coach’s view

MELBOURNE, Australia – If you go from being one of the last acceptances on the original entry list for a Grand Slam tournament to being one of the final eight some 10 days later, there’s a story.

And the story of American Tennys Sandgren at the Australian Open is a story of teamwork, with the help of a couple of guardian angels.

“He had probably been lingering between 150 and 180 (in the rankings) for two, three years for a variety of reasons including injuries, and traveled alone. Right before I started he started to make pretty good run.  When we started working together we were able to make some strides to his game, and to his head,” Sandgren’s coach, Jim Madrigal, told Tennis.Life.

“He got to a crossroads where he had competed pretty much alone for a couple of years, and felt like it was now or never, that he needed to invest in this. That he may lose on this proposition but he wanted to give himself the best chance do well.”

Sandgren had a couple of people who believed him. One was Emeric McDonald, the managing director of a Bay-area tech investment firm. McDonald and another man, whom Madrigal would not name, offered support of all kinds, including financial. 

quarterfinal
McDonald (left), Sandgren and Madrigal (right) on the practice court the day before Sandgren upset No. 5 seed Dominic Thiem in five sets at the Australian Open. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Madrigal, 46, was the longtime tennis coach at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee who also worked with Sandgren’s fellow Tennessean Brian Baker. He started with Sandgren at the beginning of April 2017.

“They always believed in Tennys, and helped fund this investment. So that he can somebody travel and guide and help him with his journey,” Madrigal said. “And it’s paid off.”

The 26-year-old will be at a career-best ranking of No. 55 next Monday, with that he has done in defeating Stan Wawrinka and Dominic Thiem on his way to the quarterfinals in Melbourne. 

Should he defeat Hyeon Chung, the unseeded but rising Korean who upset six-time champion Novak Djokovic in straight sets Monday night, he would rise to the top 40. That would basically get him straight in to every single Masters 1000-level tournament. That’s a huge leap in level (and income).

But beating Chung is a tall order. And no one knows that more than Madrigal.

Sandgren played Chung as a lucky loser in the first round of the tuneup event in Auckland, New Zealand two weeks ago. 

But it went three sets. And it was a benchmark match that told Sandgren and Madrigal that they were on the right path.

One match at a time, a great opportunity

Here’s Madrigal on Sandgren’s road through the Australian Open draw, and on how good he thinks Chung is going to be.

The American has had an unexpectedly dramatic 24 hours, as his social-media feed on Twitter has gotten more attention and notoriety than he could ever have anticipated.

His reaction was to purge his account.

On Monday night, Sandgren had 6,599 followers, 4,838 Tweets and 9,791 “liked” Tweets.

Some 24 hours later, he had 8,579 followers, 9,823 “liked” Tweets and … zero Tweets. Sandgren has not, as of yet, unfollowed any of the 565 accounts he has on his list, including some rather controversial choices that have used up a lot of bandwidth in the online tennis community.

On Tuesday, he did an interview on ESPN and said this:

“It certainly is interesting. I think taking a hard look at some things in the past that I’ve either said or portrayed. Some things that are being said about me that are untrue and not particularly fair. But people have the right to voice their opinions and say what they think,” he said. “They can make judgments about me. I think the way I’ve been conducting myself on the court, the way I treat people and everyone around me, I’m comfortable with that.”

Sandgren said he deleted all his Tweets knowing that screenshots would endure and not having an issue with that.

“It’s not something that I’m really necessarily embarrassed about. It just seemed like creating a version of a cleaner start is not a bad call.  Just something I thought wouldn’t be a bad way to move forward,” he said.

Making Fedfans happy on Court 17

On Sunday, Sandgren was busy making some fans very, very happy on a practice court at Melbourne Park.

Never has the American had so many people attend one of his practices. For many years during his career, he likely wouldn’t have had that many attending his matches.

But given the number of Roger Federer banners, he didn’t flatter himself into thinking that more than a few were there for him.

The FedFans had been waiting awhile, and were expecting to wait even longer before their hero showed up for a hit.

In the meantime, they made do with Sandgren. He went over, signed a ton of merchandise, took selfies, and bantered with the fans as Madrigal and McDonald threw all the practice tennis balls they had into the crowd.

The effort no doubt earned Sandgren some “in real life” fans at the Australian Open, even as the virtual world continued to draw its conclusions about what type of human being he is and what he believes in, from his Tweets, the accounts he follows and his reTweets.

Sandgren and Chung will take the court second on Wednesday, not before 1 p.m. (9 p.m. Tuesday night EST, 8 p.m. in Tennessee).

The winner will be in the Australian Open semifinals, to play either defending champion Roger Federer or No. 19 seed Tomas Berdych.

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