INTO AUSSIE OPEN QUARTERFINALS
Ashley Marshall | January 22, 2018
When the men’s singles draw was released at the 2018 Australian Open, the third quarter of the draw looked particularly exciting. Fast forward one week, and it’s gone from intriguing to unpredictable to borderline unbelievable.
And now, world No. 97 Tennys Sandgren, the man who has turned the draw on its head, is inexplicably one win away from being in the final four of the first major of the year.
Sandgren, who came into the Australian Open with zero Grand Slam main-draw wins to his name, defeated No. 5 seed Dominic Thiem, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6, 6-7, 6-3, on Day 8 in Melbourne.
That gives the largely unknown 26-year-old Tennessee native his fourth win in a row and sets up a quarterfinal encounter with South Korea's Hyeon Chung, a man who has decimated the draw in much the same way as the American has. ADVERTISEMENT
This is as unlikely a quarterfinal as you’re going to get. Sandgren (pictured above) had to defeat 2014 Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka in the second round before outlasting young gun Thiem in the Round of 16. Chung, meanwhile, defeated the brothers Zverev – No. 4 seed Alexander and his 32nd-seeded sibling Mischa – before rolling past six-time Australian Open winner Novak Djokovic in straight sets on Monday.
So in a quarterfinal that could have been either Wawrinka against Djokovic or Thiem against Zverev, it is instead Sandgren, who has two career ATP World Tour wins, against 21-year-old world No. 58 Chung, who has been past the second round of a major just once – on the clay of Roland Garros last spring.
Take nothing away from Sandgren’s performance at Melbourne Park this week. He's ridden his momentum well and has caused opponents problems as an unknown entity who’s difficult to gameplan against.
And if there was ever a doubt over the validity or meaningfulness of his win over Wawrinka, coming against a player returning from injury and not performing close to his best, no such things can be said about his gutsy victory over Thiem, which lasted a few ticks shy of four hours.
Sandgren broke twice to take the opening set before Thiem reeled him back in to level the match. They split tiebreaks in the third and fourth sets – Thiem saving a match point in the latter – but Sandgren’s belief never faltered, as he broke Thiem in the sixth game of the decider to establish a 4-2 advantage.
Two service holds from a spot in the last eight, Sandgren’s nerves could have wavered, but instead they remained rock steady, as he held to love for 5-2 and then served it out on his next match point.
With the win, Sandgren becomes just the third player in the past 20 years to reach the quarterfinals in his Australian Open debut, joining Nicolas Escude (1998) and Alexandr Dolgopolov (2011). He will also take home a guaranteed $350,000 – he had earned a little more than $426,000 in the past 10 years – and will jump to a new career-high inside the Top 60 when the updated rankings are released next Monday.
Should Sandgren continue his remarkable run, he would face wither No. 2 seed Roger Federer or No. 19 seed Tomas Berdych in the semifinals.
Elsewhere on Day 8 in Melbourne, No. 17 seed Madison Keys booked her spot in the quarterfinals with a convincing 6-3, 6-2 win over No. 8 seed Caroline Garcia of France.
Keys needed just 68 minutes to see off Garcia with a flurry of powerful baseline strokes that proved too much for the Frenchwoman to handle.
Keys will play former world No. 1 Angelique Kerber, the 2016 Australian Open and US Open champion, for a spot in the semifinals. The 22-year-old American has dropped just 13 games over her past three matches and is yet to drop a set this year in Melbourne.