Tennys Sandgren is USA’s last chance for a Tokyo Olympics tennis medal

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TOKYO — If nothing else, Tennys Sandgren is being honest about the position he finds himself in as the last hope for American tennis to avoid being kicked out of the medal stand at these Olympics, something that doesn’t hasn’t happened since 1920, when no Americans entered the tournament.

“To be fair, we probably shouldn’t even be playing,” Sandgren said, referring to himself and his doubles partner Austin Krajicek, who only made Team USA because American men the top-ranked decided that playing an ATP 250 event in Atlanta this week would be a better use of their time.

But no matter how they got here, Sandgren and Krajicek could very well walk away with a bronze medal. After losing a brutally close 6-4, 6-4 semi-final to the world’s No. 1-ranked doubles team of Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic of Croatia on Thursday, they will return on Friday to face New Zealanders Marcus Daniell and Michael Venus for third place. place.

“We’re both going to be chomping at the bit, I’m sure, and the energy will be hard to contain,” Sandgren said.

In a world where we knew less about our athletes, where we didn’t have access to as much of their thoughts and beliefs, the opportunity for a few fellow pros to achieve something so important for Team USA would be universally hailed as one of the feel-good stories of the Tokyo Olympics.

And yet, Sandgren understands as well as anyone that a lot of tennis fans — a lot of American tennis fans — will be actively rooting for him to lose on Friday.

“Everything is polarizing,” Sandgren said. “Everything is transformed into something it is not.”

In this case, Sandgren wasn’t speaking for himself, though he easily could have. He was responding to a question about the discourse in the United States that has been seething since Simone Biles pulled out of tag team competition due to mental health issues, a moment that has become catnip for some politically talking heads. conservative.

“I have no idea what it’s like to have the weight of so many expectations on your shoulders,” Sandgren said. “Everyone should respect her and respect her choice and respect how she is doing and how she deals with being human because she is human first and foremost. I think that’s the biggest thing and all this other polarizing nonsense is people kicking political balloons.

Of course, to suggest that the Biles situation or the general discussion around athlete mental health is a symbol of American decline is nothing more than ridiculous outrage.

But this is no longer an outlier.

At these Olympics, a lot of Americans are rooting against the United States men’s basketball team because Gregg Popovich was a vocal critic of former President Trump. Just days ago, Trump encouraged a crowd at one of his events to boo the United States women’s soccer team, which had lost its first Olympics game.

This is where we are. And that’s where we are with Sandgren too, albeit on the other side of the political spectrum.

When Sandgren raced out of nowhere to the Australian Open quarter-finals after years of hard work in minor league tennis, it sent people racing to find out who this guy from Nashville was. . As we tend to do these days, the first place they went was his Twitter feed – and what they found was a lot of interaction with far-right political figures, talk about theory of the conspiracy, a Twitter interaction with former top 10 player James Blake that suggested he doesn’t believe systemic racism exists in America and a years-old homophobic joke.

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Sandgren deleted the Tweets, made the apology rounds and said it was wrong to judge him on a handful of social media posts. But the decisions were made then, and perhaps not entirely unfairly. Even though he doesn’t believe some of the things he tweeted years ago, he still dives into conservative politics on occasion and even tweeted the day after the Capitol Riot on 6 January which began strangely: “Yesterday was a tragedy, but the shape of the day has been forming for a long time.

When it’s your view of the world, out there for everyone, there will inevitably be people who are at best indifferent to the prospect of seeing Sandgren step onto the podium with a bronze medal and team colors. American.

“Everything in the United States is politically polarized, so everyone is drawing their line,” he said. “I mean, if people want to root against me, I’m not really giving a (expletive) at this point. What do you want from me? I do not care. I do not care. It doesn’t even affect me a little bit. »

Regardless of what some fans might think of Sandgren, he and Krajicek becoming surprise medalists here would objectively be a big deal for American tennis, which had a miserable time in Tokyo. Since the sport returned to the Olympics in 1988, the United States has won 14 gold, three silver and six bronze medals. The worst showing came in 2004 when the only medalist was Mardy Fish, who advanced to the men’s singles final.

“I can’t really say (expletive) if the United States doesn’t win a medal for the first time ever,” Sandgren said. “So I don’t know, it’s not my responsibility especially when if our full roster is playing I’m not even here. I’m grateful to be here, I’m grateful to be competing for my country and fighting for each point.

Sandgren is right that it shouldn’t be up to him to save face for an American team from which all of its best men have withdrawn. The women’s team was also decimated by the withdrawals of Serena Williams and Sofia Kenin and a COVID-19 positive which disqualified Coco Gauff at the last minute.

But now, whether American tennis fans like it or not, there is only one option left for glory at the Tokyo Olympics. When Sandgren shows up in court on Friday, will they care more about patriotism or his Twitter history? These days, for better or for worse, it’s never easy.


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