Tennys Sandgren's sketchy social media history is well-documented, but he's apologized since. How do other players feel about him?

By Jon Wertheim
April 18, 2018

Hey everyone….

Housekeeping

• I’m on the road this week, so there will be no podcast. But this gives you extra time to listen to Danielle Collins, who was excellent:

• Sloane Stephens is allegedly the next podcast guest, so if you have questions for the new top-ten denizen, please fire away.

• On Monday we announced on Twitter that “Cheeses of Europe” will be a new sponsor of the U.S. Open Series.

The one-liners came fast and furious. “A gouda deal”. “Hope they have GOAT.” “The USTA sure likes its cheddar.” A prize if you can top any of those.

On that note….

Mailbag

Hi Jon,

[Regarding] the final in Houston, I'm trying to figure out how I should feel about Tennys Sandgren.  On one hand, he has a great story.  His interviews early on in Melbourne were thoughtful, and he seemed to be saying all the right things.  I also like rooting for former collegians, and Sandgren played two years at Tennessee. But then the alt-right Twittergate story broke, and I was pretty repulsed by some of the things he tweeted (and retweeted).  He apologized at the end of the tournament and seemed to want to turn over a new leaf.  So my question is: How is he viewed on tour?  Is he a pariah seen as a representative of the American alt-right?  Is he seen as someone who grew up a certain way and has been transformed by virtue of his success in a diverse, global sport?  Something else?  
Tam, Durham, N.C. 

I’m not sure I’m going to be much help here, because I confess to ambivalence. Let’s be clear: the alt-right that Sandgren seemed to endorse is abhorrent. This is not political. This is not a left-right, liberal-conservative issue. We’re talking about a group and sentiment that exists so far beyond the bounds of acceptable that it ought to be universally condemned. The self-described “alt-right” is a violation of the social compact, a dangerous blight on humanity and all that is decent. 

Yet—you knew there was going to be a yet—at a time when we are so often entrenched in our positions, when political positions have become intractable stances, when certitude is a modern hallmark, here comes Sandgren. What has he done? He’s made an apology. He’s scrubbed his social media accounts, which, yes, may have been expedient, but also suggests self-awareness and reconsideration, if not shame. He’s renounced at least some of the alt-right platform and some of his regrettable retweets. He’s tried to engage in conversation. This has gone over better with some players than others. But in no way do I sense that he is a pariah, especially among American men.

Again, I have my issues here. The homophobic tweet. The dog whistles. Giving any credence whatsoever to “Pizzagate.” His manifesto at the Australian Open was heartfelt (and awfully well-written, especially for an athlete in the midst of competition) but fraught with gaping holes in logic. (You can’t spew hate and then position yourself as a victim. You can’t give legitimacy to alt-right positions and then, with a straight face, bash the media on the grounds that: “You strip away any individuality for the sake of demonizing by way of the collective.”)

But I give Sandgren some credit—especially in this political climate—for examining and re-examining. If he has the capacity to shift his views, perhaps we should have the capacity to shift our views on him.

And, oh yes, there’s also his tennis. For the record, he’s No. 47 this week, fresh off reaching the Houston final. (He lost to Stevie Johnson who, for whatever this is worth, declared Sandgren “a good friend.”) He’s hit a career-high ranking. That means appearances in main draws for the foreseeable future. One suspects that also means more opportunities to reveal who he really is and what he truly stands for.

Interesting to see Novak Djokovic calling upon former coach Marian Vajda again. There was always something about hiring Agassi that always struck me as more gimmicky than thoughtfully planned (nothing against Agassi; I just didn’t see the fit). All the apparent instability in Djokovic’s entourage stands in stark contrast to the stability within the Nadal and Federer teams over the years.
Yves, Montreal

• Before the 2017 Monte Carlo event, a former ATP stalwart told me to keep an eye on Djokovic because “he’s kind of out there right now.” A year later, Djokovic is even further out there. Like, no-paved-roads and no Starbucks and no-cell-signal out there.

It’s not surprising that he returned to Vajda. Why not try to reconstruct what you had during the fat years? We see this all the time, no? From Keith Olbermann reappearing on ESPN, to David Lee Roth rejoining Van Halen, to Phil Jackson returning to the Lakers. 

I would dispute your characterization of the Agassi hire. It struck me as an inspired move at the time. And as Djokovic really began to struggle and ponder some existential questions, Agassi seemed like an even better fit. Agassi was literally the one man on the planet best equipped to grasp the challenge confronting a 30-year-old tennis star, a seeker—married and with two children—trying to revive a career, exile doubts, and meet expectations. Now, he has lost the services of that Yoda.

Jon, I heard you mention that it’s been a weird tennis season so far and I agree. How would you grade the tennis season through the first trimester?
Richard G., Connecticut

• Well….I’m not sure it lends itself to grading. How’s this year been so far? I guess it all depends on your tennis values. At the Australian, a friend was lamenting the final weekend. “In 2017, we had Venus/Serena and Federer/Nadal. This year we have two women, neither of whom has won before. And we have Federer/Cilic. What a difference a year makes.” Another friend retorted: “We get to see a player win a major for the first time. And we either get a 36-year-old winning his 20thmajor, or a guy finally stepping up and cracking the Federer-Nadal duopoly. That’s not so bad.”

There’s a temptation to find themes to a sports season. “It’s the year the great ones retreat!” Maybe. Except that Serena gave birth, so that doesn’t count. And Federer won in Australia. “The year youth is served.” Maybe. Except that—for all the successes of Naomi Osaka and Frances Tiafoe—the field continues to age. And other newcomers like Sascha Zverev have struggled. “The year the Big Four dissolves!” Except that Federer won the year’s first Slam, Nadal is the favorite in Paris and Djokovic and Murray are both likely to return and contend.

Let’s land here: Yes, it’s been a strange year so far. (Made stranger by the fact that—for the second straight year—Federer is taking himself out of contention for the Grand Slam.) But it's too early to make any pronouncements. Will Serena come back at something resembling full force? Will Djokovic solve the riddle of Djokovic? Can Simona Halep break through? Can Federer keep this up? (Or, now on a two-match losing streak, is he again mortal?) Plenty of intrigue remains.

In this break between Slams, I was wondering if it might be a good moment to ask about the potential changes in the number of seeds at Slams and the impact this might have on the remainder of the tennis season. For whatever reason, I have always been interested in the year-round rankings, and have found myself constantly drawn to paying particular attention to who's in the top 8, the top 16 and the top 32, as these cutoffs obviously play a huge role in the Slams due to seeding. It's as close as tennis gets to checking on a playoff race in our favorite team sport. If the Slams go back down to 16 seeds, then paying attention to how the players ranked 25-40 are playing seems like it'll be less entertaining for us year-round tennis fans. I realize that this isn't a matter of any remote interest to the Slams themselves, of course—they don't care if fans like myself are interested in how the Verdascos, Dzumhurs, and Mannarinos of the world are performing in mid-April. But I just wondered if you or your readers were feeling the same way as I am?——-
Cam Bennett, Canberra, Australia

• I come out strongly in favor of 32 seeds. And you lay out the reasons nicely. It rewards players in the 25-40 range and gives an incentive to move into both the top 16 and top 32. Think about it: if you are the No. 32 seed, you’re guaranteed not to face a higher-ranked opponent until the third round, and by then you are guaranteed a six-figure payday. You have protected the top players, which pays dividends later in the tournament. At 16 seeds, is it fair that, say Nadal (currently No. 1) could play Jack Sock (currently No. 17) in round one? The great selling point for 16 seeds distills to “compelling first round matches.” But its not as though majors lack first-round upsets and intrigue under the current format.

Here’s what gets me: for all the challenges tennis faces—from the rash of injuries to broadcast challenges—why would authorities make this a priority? “A pimple on an elephants butt,” as the Brits would say. 

Hi Jon,

What's your take on this Jared Donaldson incident? Seems to raise all sorts of interesting questions, including the use of Hawk-Eye on clay courts.
Lilas P.

• Jared Donaldson—not exactly known as a hothead—had a YouTube moment and was fined $6,200. Like you, my first thought was: this doesn't happen if there’s Hawk-Eye. (My second thought: Hey, that’s the same official struck by Denis Shapovalov’s wayward shot last year, an accident that required surgery. Nice to see him back, even if he wishes he weren’t again a viral sensation.) 

Watch the replay and it does appear that Donaldson was correct. Watch the replay and it does appear that the official made physical contact—gentle and in an attempt at conciliation, but contact nonetheless—with the player, not vice versa. If this is the NBA, that fine gets overturned.

While enjoying Monte Carlo, I’m struck by the difference from its Masters 1000 predecessors. Indian Wells and Miami have 96-player draws and seven rounds. This week it’s down to 64 and six, and by my count 41 of the top 100 aren’t playing. I realize there are several injuries and Monte Carlo tends to be more lightly attended than some other Masters 1000s, but it seems a little quirky that it’s worth the same points as Indian Wells and Miami. (And then, of course, this is doubly true for Paris.)
Rachel W., Iowa

• Remember a few things. 1. Miami and Indian Wells have the extra days and thus the extra round. More conventional Masters 1000 events feature 64-player draws and, thus, six rounds. 2. Monte Carlo was consigned to that weird you-can-call-yourself-a-Masters-and-pay-full-boat-but-players-aren't-required-to-play status. I believe the technical term is “non-mandatory Masters 1000.” 3. Monte Carlo kicks off the clay season, which, for non-Europeans, means as many as seven weeks (usually on something other than a choice surface) away from home. For a Nick Kyrgios or a Sock, you can understand why they might want to take a pass. 4. This backdrop should limit your sympathy.

I appreciated the Tennis Movie Edition of Beyond the Baseline and wondered why none of the tennis best sellers have inspired feature films. I will watch the Borg/McEnroe film once it emerges. Shia LaBeouf does have some similarities to McEnroe, and the actor portraying Borg bears a strong resemblance (though at first I thought it was Garrett Hedlund.) Both the MMA films Warrior and Redbelt proved entertaining, and a special nod to Steven Soderbergh's Haywire as a vehicle for Gina Carano's martial arts expertise if not acting chops. In Warrior, the trainers Nick Nolte and Frank Grillo had scene-stealing moments while Redbelt was directed by David Mamet, referenced Gracie and included a cameo from Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini.The recent Roberto Duran (Hands of Stone) and Vinny Pazienza (Bleed for This) biopics worked for me as well due to strong casts (Edgar Ramirez with Robert DeNiro in Hands and Miles Teller with Aaron Eckhart in Bleed).
Wil Blake

I have a theory about boxing. 

We love the idea of boxing. Two athletes, stripped of all pretense and everything but a pair of gloves. The geometry of the ring. The high stakes. The evolutionary echoes. Fight versus flight. You’re not trying to hit a ball past an opponent or swim fast; you’re trying to impose your physical will. This makes it cinematic. This makes it friendly to writers. But—at least in the last quarter-century—no one actually likes boxing itself. It exists as a construct and a metaphor. Not as a sport many want to engage, either as a participant or fan.

Tennis has many of the elements of boxing, minus the repeated blows to the head. 

I know athletes and only athletes decide when they call it quits. I get it.

But how can Tommy Robredo be happy slogging through qualifying draws? Actually, he’s not even slogging through. He’s just slogging. 
—James B.

Tommy, can you hear me? Robredo is ranked 195 and turns 36 next week. But if he thinks he’s still capable of playing pro tennis, he’s earned the right to continue. Same goes for Vera Zvonareva and Patty Schnyder and so many others.

Hi Jon,

You may already be aware of this article, but I haven't seen you reference it. It’s fascinating that studies have been done specifically focusing on grunting in tennis—the benefits to the grunter and hindrances to the opponent.
Miles Benson, Hudson, Mass.

Over to you, tennis authorities….

Hi Jon,

I’m a big fan of your Mailbag (and your recent 60 Minutes segments), and I’ve also recently become a big fan of a new tennis viewing perspective—court level tennis viewing, which I came across on YouTube and hope you’ll check out. Although there are many amateur videos on there produced by fans, the best example I’ve found is “Roger Federer Court Level Points 2017, featuring Federer playing against Stanislas Warwinka, Zverev, Nadal, et al. To me, this slightly lower viewing perspective (sometimes behind the server, sometimes behind the receiver) is a more exciting way to watch tennis, as it’s virtually from a player’s perspective. The video includes clips from Eurosport and Sky Sport, so I wonder why we haven’t seen this on our side of the Atlantic. I’m not saying that every point should be shown this way, but it does at least seem like a welcome, refreshing variation from the same old, same old. What do you think?
John Rossitter, Middletown, Conn.

• Thanks. Very cool vantage point that throws both power and spin into sharp relief. Anyone know more about this?

Hi Jon,

What are your thoughts on the future of tennis in the U.S.? Florida has a crusader, Javier Palenque, who almost incessantly writes about all that’s wrong with the USTA. One can't help but agree with him, as he is daring the governing body to be what it is not: transparent and open. Please share your thoughts, and here is an article I just read that made me laugh, but so much of it rings so true. Hard to argue with Math.
Joel Silverman, Palm Beach, Fla. 

Javier Palenque is tennis’ version of an activist investor, the agitator at the school-board meeting holding the members’ feet to the proverbial fire. I take issue with some of his data and application. His approach might be considered abrasive. But he makes some points worthy of consideration, and I know his frustration—and his questions about funding and resources—is shared by many.

SHOTS, MISCELLANY

• More Borg-McEnroe: Five Cast Members and Their Real-Life Inspirations

• A few of you asked about the 60 Minutes piece on the Harvard Lampoon. Here it is, but—playing good soldier—feel free to download the 60 Minutes app. (Right after you subscribe to SITV.)

Here’s reader Dan Martin on David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.

• This week’s unsolicited friend’s book recommendation: Grant Wahl’s Masters of Modern Soccer

• Maria Sharapova has announced she will play in the 2018 Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic, July 30-August 5, on the campus of the tournament’s new home - San Jose State University.

• For the John McEnroe fans: On the "ongoing conversation between tennis and cinema."

• “The ITF today announced the launch of a new program, ‘Empowering Female Leaders’, to improve gender equality in leadership positions within tennis on a worldwide basis through a variety of educational opportunities. The initiative will be supported for the next three years by the Foundation for Global Sports Development (GSD), which has provided the ITF with a grant of $375,000 to fund workshops, education courses and professional development for women in sport.”

• The USTA announced it will rename the USTA Girls’ 18s and 16s National Championships in honor of Billie Jean King. The National Championships, part of the USTA adidas Junior Championship Series, will be renamed The USTA Billie Jean King Girls’ 18s and 16s National Championships presented by adidas, beginning with the 2018 tournament, which will be held Aug. 4-12. 

• Selkirk Sport, the leading Pickleball paddle and accessories brand, and one of the game’s most prominent supporters, announced that professional tennis player, Kaitlyn Christian—who acted as Emma Stone's tennis double in the film “Battle of the Sexes,” has been signed to the Team Selkirk Advisory Staff and is now competing on the professional pickleball tour. The news comes in advance of the 2018 US Open Pickleball Championships (April 21-29, Naples FL), where the former NCAA Women’s Tennis Doubles Champion (University of Southern California) will compete using the recently introduced Selkirk Series AMPED Paddle.

• A golden oldie Long Lost Sibling: Novak Djokovic and Paul Ryan. (One is floundering and going through an existential crisis and pondering what comes next...The other is Djokovic.)

Reader riff

Barry MacKay's sister Bonnie passed away this past weekend. She played mixed doubles w/Barry at Forest Hills and grew up in the same neighborhood with Tony Trabert. She and Barry used to watch T.T. take lessons at the country club in Dayton, Ohio, from the other side of the fence, then go out and practice their new strokes. When the light would fade, they pointed their family car's headlights toward the park court, and shout out which side—backhand or forehand—the ball was heading towards before it would appear suddenly in the headlights.

Bonnie played a couple of memorable matches: vs. Althea Gibson at Forest Hills, and an exhibition vs. Maureen “Little Mo” Connolly at the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club. She also played mixed with Barry at Forest Hills, and he would always call her off on lobs to her side of the court for that big sweeping overhead. 

Bonnie won the 1951 18 & under doubles title with Elaine Lewiecki (sp.) at the Philadelphia Cricket Club to earn her spot at the U.S. Championships at Forest Hills. 

After leaving the tour, she became a tennis and golf champion at the prestigious Crystal Downs Country Club in Michigan, and was later inducted into the Oakwood, Ohio sports Hall of Fame in 2008. 

Bonnie MacKay Barnes was 85 years old.

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