Repeat Business: Sandgren Books Another QF In Melbourne
Two years ago, Tennys Sandgren shocked fans with an improbable run to the Australian Open quarter-finals. On Sunday, the World No. 100 in the FedEx ATP Rankings completed another inspired effort to reach the last eight in Melbourne by upsetting No. 12 seed Fabio Fognini of Italy 7-6(5), 7-5, 6-7(2), 6-4.
”Playing him is just a war,” Sandgren said in his on-court interview. “He’s so good and you can never count him out at any stage. I was expecting a fight and we had a fight.”
The American continues to thrive at the start of the year. In addition to his pair of quarter-final runs at this event, Sandgren also captured his maiden ATP Tour title 12 months ago in Auckland (d. Norrie). Fourteen of his 36 tour-level wins have come in the month of January.
Next up for the baseline battler is third-seeded Swiss Roger Federer, who recovered from a set down to beat Hungarian Marton Fucsovics 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 in two hours and 11 minutes.
“It will be very special, very special [to play against Federer],” said Sandgren. “I was kicking myself that I lost to a too good Sam Querrey at Wimbledon in the Round of 16 because I would have played Rafa in the quarter-finals.
”That would have been very special. I was a little upset that I wasn't able to get to that match. It will be incredibly special to be able to play him at least once in my career. To play him on a big stage like the quarter-finals of a Slam will be a tonne of fun really.”
Sandgren and Fognini traded comfortable service holds in the opening set to force a tie-break. It was Fognini who blinked first at 5/5, handing the American a pair of forehand errors and an early lead.
The second set proved to be high on drama, lengthy rallies, and wild shifts in momentum. Sandgren raced through 14 of the first 16 points and appeared all but certain to take a two-sets lead. But Fognini stunned the crowd by using his full arsenal to claw back from 0-4. He showcased incredible defence at 4-1 to win a 26-shot rally and earn one break back, then leveled the score two games later by ripping a forehand winner.
Just when it seemed that Fognini would complete an improbable comeback, Sandgren stepped up at 5-5 and broke the Italian once more with a gorgeous backhand passing shot on the run. A comfortable hold in the next game put the unseeded 28-year-old firmly in command.
“It's a rollercoaster sometimes with him,” said Sandgren. “Sometimes you're just a passenger with what's going on. He doesn't play well, all of a sudden he's playing amazing, you're stuck with your hands in your pockets… That second set was kind of quintessential Fabio with how it can go down.
"Even though it was 4-5 and I lost five games in a row, I thought, ‘At least I'm still on serve, not in a hole or anything like that. I'm up a set. Maybe try to screw your head on right and keep fighting.’”
The third set saw both players trade a pair of early service breaks before refusing to budge further, setting up another tie-break. Fognini earned a mini-break advantage at 1/1 by pushing Sandgren out wide and drawing a forehand error. The No. 12 seed continued to repeat the tactic and was rewarded handsomely as Sandgren struggled with the play. A final forehand into the net from the American at 6/2 allowed Fognini to close the gap.
The Italian was eager to produce his third fifth-set clash of the week, but Sandgren delivered his finest moments of the match in the final two minutes. With Fognini serving at 4-5, 40/15, a pair of forehand winners from the American brought the score to deuce and a forehand volley winner gave him match point. A sensational drop volley winner brought the crowd to its feet as Sandgren took a bow after three hours and 27 minutes.
“I thought the difference was really small moments,” said Sandgren. “Maybe I played just a little bit better on a handful of moments, and that was the match.”
Sandgren moved to 2-2 in his ATP Head2Head with Fognini and has won their past two matches.