The Wonder Down Under – Roger Scores a Miracle Comeback

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Photo by Getty Images

Bill Simons 

Melbourne

Tennys Sandgren has a great name, but not a great ranking. He’s No. 100. He once revealed that he was within one or two bad matches of being out of the game. He’s the object of good-natured jokes. Roger Federer said, “I have played a lot of tennis, but never played against anyone named Tennys.” And while Roger has endorsement deals with companies that make Italian pasta, Swiss watches and German cars, Sandgren’s Aussie friends make his tennis outfits and he doesn’t have a shoe deal.

If you’d been asked what American man you thought would go the farthest in the Australian Open, you’d have gone with Isner, Fritz, Opelka or Tiafoe. You wouldn’t have volunteered the name of the guy from Tennessee.

This year, Sandgren gained notoriety for, along with Rafa, being the only player in the draw wearing a sleeveless shirt. “He can’t wear his emotions on his sleeve,” joked one reporter.

In 2018, Sandgren’s mother got so excited as her unsung son made a run to the quarters that she fell and cracked her ribs. Then after a British writer noted that Sandgren’s social media presence included many extreme right wing tweets and re-tweets, Sandgren came into the press room and read a statement that asserted, “You [in the media] seek to put people in these little boxes so that you can order the world in your already assumed preconceived ideas. You strip away any individuality for the sake of demonizing by way of the collective.” But there was no way that you could put Tennys’ improbable, spectacularly glorious, then wretched run into a little box for the collective.

Sandgren’s Grand Slam record was just 14-10. He’d won only one major league tourney and slumped badly after the US Open due to an injury. Still, in Melbourne he stepped up to beat Sam Querrey and the Italians Matteo Berrettini and Fabio Fognini. Now he was hoping to become the lowest-ranked Aussie Open semi-finalist since No. 114 Patrick McEnroe in 1991, and the first American man to reach the Aussie semis since Andy Roddick in 2009.

It was a big ask. The man who admitted that he moved like a giraffe would be going up against an aging gazelle. On script, Federer easily won the opening set, 6-2. But Tennys wasn’t dead. Instead, the 38-year-old Swiss soon began to look listless and leaden. His serve was timid. Where was his explosion? His gravity-defying grace vanished. Time and again he faltered on break points. His forehand was erratic. The Swiss are known for their precision, but Roger’s timing was off. How odd.

Speaking of odd, a lineswoman actually called tennis’ great ambassador for an audible obscenity. Roger asked the ump sarcastically, “She’s from Switzerland isn’t she? Give me a break.” Federer took a long nine-minute medical time-out to deal with a tight groin. Plus, the ump’s microphone briefly went astray, a ballgirl, at full speed, collided into Sandgren’s calf and a feather floated from the sky.

Still, the American, who became embroiled in controversy two years ago for his extreme right-wing social media activity, today seemed to have all the right stuff. He stroked leaping backhands, and his serve, averaging 10 mph faster than Roger’s, was fearsome. More than anything, he remained calm, as he swept past the GOAT to take a 3-6, 6-2, 6-2, 5-4 lead. All seemed lost for the crowd’s favorite. Roger’s Friends’ Box looked shocked. All of Laver Arena seemed numb.

But in tennis you can’t run out the clock. And the American, who looks like an NFL tight end, got tight. Astonishingly, on seven match points, Tennys faltered. He suffered four backhand errors and two forehand miscues, and Roger hit a volley winner.

Of course, everyone knows what a winner Roger is. His comebacks are legendary. He survived seven match points against Scott Draper in Cincinnati in 2003. He fended off a huge break-point opportunity that Tommy Haas had in 2009 and then went on to win his single French Open championship. In 2018 he unleashed a storm of topspin backhands and roared back against Nadal in the fifth set to win the Aussie Open. And just the other night he somehow won six straight points in the decisive tie-break against the popular Aussie John Millman. Today he won 6-3, 2-6, 2-6, 7-6(8), 6-3 to score his second miracle escape in three matches. Somewhere, Houdini is smiling.

Roger said, “It was one of my greatest miraculous comebacks,” and then conceded that he didn’t even know how many match points he’d saved. He noted, “It was all the more beautiful because it happened at a Slam…After what happened at Wimbledon [where he failed to convert two match points against Djokovic], it shows that sometimes things balance out.”

In his on-court interview with Jim Courier, Roger confided, “I believe in miracles…You have to be lucky sometimes…I was just hoping.” He thought to himself, “[Roger] you know, you should be skiing in Switzerland.” Courier told the Swiss escape artist, “You are not like anyone I have ever met.” But that’s obvious. The Alpine maestro is not like anybody anyone has ever met.

*****

Roger and Kobe

Roger said he was in bed when he heard of Kobe’s death. He was shocked and immediately woke up his wife Mirka. Federer said he loves basketball and still relishes Kobe tossing the coin at his US Open match. He noted that he and Kobe both have four kids and he said it has been hell for his kids.

Navratilova – Pick A Hero Every Child Can Look Up To

Fifteen minutes before last night’s Rafa-Kyrgios match, Margaret Court was honored on the 50th anniversary of her winning the Grand Slam. Rod Laver presented her with a gleaming replica of her trophy. She got a nice round of applause, but she wasn’t given the microphone to speak.

The next day Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe displayed a sign on Margaret Court Arena that read “Evonne Goolagong Arena,” and Navratilova issued a statement that contended that stadiums should be named for people who inspire. Her statement read,  “When airports, buildings, streets or stadiums are named…it is done, or at least should be done, to honor exceptional human beings – our heroes.

“Think Muhammad Ali, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Billie Jean King, Rod Laver, Rosa Parks. Would it not be appropriate if the Staples Center were renamed as a tribute to Kobe Bryant? Such luminaries excelled in their fields and transcended them; they made a positive contribution to mankind; they led by example. And, perhaps most of all, they were on the right side of history.

“But Margaret Court does not belong in that company or category. Nobody disputes her achievements on the tennis court, and her place in the sport’s history remains as distinguished as it gets. Nobody wants to take away or diminish her career, least of all me. Margaret, Billie Jean and Rod were my childhood heroes. I wanted to be like them.

“So, it pains me to say this, but Margaret Court Arena must be renamed. As a worthy replacement, my vote goes to Evonne Goolagong. Evonne is the embodiment of what a role model or hero truly is. Her heritage, her success against the odds, her Hall of Fame career and her exemplary life off court, in which she has given so much of herself to so many causes, are all attributes we can celebrate wholeheartedly.

“In our tennis family, we celebrate the good values of our sport and we love how democratic and inclusive it has become, the way it has driven out prejudice and unfair exclusion.

“Yes, we have free speech in a democracy, but that doesn’t mean that free speech doesn’t have consequences. When Margaret goes out of her way to single out a group of people and tell them they don’t deserve equal rights, that they are less than good parents, that they are not Godly, that’s not merely free speech. It’s hateful and hurtful speech, and it’s injurious to countless vulnerable people.

“Why not pick someone whom every child can look up to and want to emulate—a champion who inspires and motivates young and old to do their best and be their best every day? For me, that person is Evonne Goolagong. ‘Evonne Goolagong Arena.’ Perfect.”

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