Sandgren Continues Run, Ousts Thiem In Melbourne
World No. 97 sets up Chung quarter-final clash
Having failed to convert one match point opportunity at 6/5 in the fourth set tie-break, the American could easily have folded, but he held his nerve in the deciding set to record a 6-2, 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-7(7), 6-3 victory over World No. 5 Dominic Thiem of Austria.
Having broken into the Top 100 of the ATP Rankings for the first time in September 2017, the World No. 97 – in his eighth season as a pro – will now prepare to face South Korea’s Hyeon Chung, the Next Gen ATP Finals titlist, who beat six-time former champion and No. 14 seed Novak Djokovic. Sandgren had previously travelled to Melbourne on five occasions, but never progressed through the qualifying competition.
“I’m starting to disbelieve what is happening now,” said Sandgren, who also beat 2014 champion and No. 8-ranked Stan Wawrinka in the second round, in an on-court interview. “But maybe it’s not a dream? He played some really, really great tennis, especially in the fourth set tie-break. Goodness gracious! I knew I had to take my chances and he, from behind the court, would outlast me. I had to stay aggressive and serve well.”
Afterwards, in his press conference, Sandgren was asked if he was pinching himself. He admitted, “I actually did a little bit at the end of the match doing the post-match interview thinking this would be one of those moments where you wake up. Obviously, the first three matches were more than I expected. This one was about as hard-fought as I've ever had a match before. My biggest match, as well, pretty neat. I definitely had a real pinch-me moment. 'Wow, this is hopefully real. If I wake up now, I'm going to be real upset.'"
Thiem saw his 4/1 lead in the fourth set tie-break evaporate and deep in the backhand corner at 5/6, found himself match point down and under enormous pressure. With few options available, the Austrian ripped a backhand winner down the line. Two points later, with another single-handed winner from Thiem, the pressure shifted to Sandgren, who struck a crosscourt forehand wide and sent the match into a deciding set.
Sandgren performed at his best when in close proximity to the net, using his whipped forehand to launch attacks. Unfazed by the enormity of the match, the American took a 3-0 lead and began to worry Thiem. Sandgren later saw his 3-1 lead in the third set vanish, but held his nerve to clinch a tie-break. But his serve remained potent (74 first-serve in percentage to Thiem’s 65 per cent) and in the fifth set, Sandgren broke in the sixth game for a 4-2 lead. As the end came into sight, he never wavered – hitting 63 winners, including 20 aces overall for victory over three hours and 54 minutes.
“Patience was a big [part of the match] because he was doing a lot of cool things, especially on his serve,” said Sandgren. “I didn't get a lot of looks… I had to just keep level-headed, keep holding onto my service games, doing the right things, and hopefully I could get a few looks.
“In the third, fourth and fifth [sets], it was like I had a handful. I had two looks on second serves in the [third set] tie-break, a couple again in the fourth set tie-break, then in the fifth set I had one service game that he had that I had three second serve looks. That's hardly any for the span of three sets like that.
“The rest of the time I was holding onto my serve, telling myself to stay calm, be calm, don't burn too much energy on stuff I didn't need to, just focus on what I had to do.”
Thiem had been attempting to become the fourth Austrian to reach the Australian Open quarter-finals, following in the footsteps of Peter Feigel (1978), former World No. 1 Thomas Muster (1989, 1994 and 1997) and Stefan Koubek (2002).