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Tennys Sandgren plays Andy Murray for the second time in a month Tuesday evening in Zhuhai.

Why Sandgren Cherishes The 'Opportunity To Play A Legend' In Murray

The American beat the former World No. 1 in August

When former World No. 1 Andy Murray takes the court Tuesday evening at the Huajin Securities Zhuhai Championships, the Scot will not only face a difficult opponent, but a fan.

American Tennys Sandgren has long enjoyed watching Murray compete. He has always liked following players who defend well, which is something he tries to do. Sandgren would watch how the likes of Murray, Gael Monfils and Gilles Simon constructed points, how they went about playing throughout a match, and he would try to apply that to his own game.

In 2012, Sandgren got an opportunity that many young players dream of, practising a couple of times with Murray in Delray Beach just a year on from his final year at the University of Tennessee, where he was an all-American.

“It struck me that he was really, really good. That’s what struck me the most,” Sandgren told ATPTour.com, cracking a laugh. “That and that he was working his [behind] off. He was working with Ivan [Lendl] and Ivan was crushing him and he was taking it and working like a dog. Those two things struck me hard: his tennis talent was ridiculous and he was working like a dog.”

It would be a while before Sandgren was playing matches against opponents of Murray’s calibre. The current World No. 69 did not crack the Top 100 of the ATP Rankings for the first time until he was nearly 26 and his first Grand Slam main draw came at 2017 Roland Garros.

But Murray never forgot about Sandgren. Players typically practise with a large number of people due to varying factors. But despite not seeing the American much as he grinded away on the ATP Challenger Tour, Murray always remembered Sandgren.

“Andy is a guy who has always been super nice to me,” Sandgren said. “I’d always see him maybe four or five times a year at Slams, when I’d be in qualies and he’d be there practising and I’d see him and already be out of the tournament and he’d be in preparation mode when I was already done. He’d always make a point to say, ‘Hello, how’s it going? What’s your ranking at? How are you doing?’

“When you’re at a Slam, those guys are getting pulled a lot of different ways and they’re seeing a lot of people all the time, walking from here to there and it always struck me as a very unnecessary, but very much appreciated thing to do that he would remember me. I felt like he always seemed like a very genuine guy. That always stuck with me, so I’ve always been a fan of his. Even before that, but especially after that.”

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In a way the pair came full circle at the Winston-Salem Open, where Murray played his second singles tournament since undergoing hip surgery after this year’s Australian Open. Sandgren, who claimed his first ATP Tour title in Auckland this year, beat the 45-time tour-level champion 7-6(8), 7-5 in a match that went past midnight due to rain earlier in the day.

“I was so happy we got to play because the crowd was so into it. They wanted to see Andy play so badly and there was an energy just walking on the court because they were happy we were playing with the rain. So I was really excited we got to play that match just in general,” Sandgren said. “It was kind of an odd match. The first set was super tight and then I went up two breaks and he got them both back and I was like, ‘C’mon, ma. Can you please serve it out?’" 

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More than 13,000 kilometres away in Zhuhai, Sandgren will look to take a 2-0 lead in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series. Just three years ago, the American had yet to break into the Top 100. And now, Sandgren is playing a former World No. 1 twice in a month’s time.

“I’m just one of the guys who gets the opportunity to play a legend and that’s cool. That’s an enjoyable experience,” Sandgren said. “I’ve played a lot of matches in relative obscurity, so to be able to have those opportunities is a lot of fun. It’s of course challenging because you have to figure out what the heck you’re going to do and there’s more people and there’s pressure that comes with that, sure, but it’s way more of an opportunity and an enjoyable experience to go out there and compete and entertain some people and have fun with it.”

Sandgren knows that this is an interesting moment for Murray, too. The three-time Grand Slam champion has yet to win a tour-level singles match during his comeback, so earning revenge against Sandgren could help build momentum as he continues his journey back to form.

“As a fan of the game and of his, I’m curious to see what will happen. I hope the best for him. As a competitor, it’s irrelevant. I have to go and do what I’m going to do," Sandgren said. "Regardless of what he’s bringing to the table, I have to bring my best level to the table and see how it matches up and see if it’s good enough on the day."

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