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Former Vol’s Aussie Open Run Spoiled by Media Question

The last American to fall in one of the biggest tennis tournaments in the world is under fire for the most absurd of reasons.

Tennys Sandgren is a Tennessee native, a former University of Tennessee tennis competitor, and, against all odds, advanced to the Quarter Finals of the Australian Open this week. Going into the tournament, he was 2-8 in all of his career World Tour and Grand Slam matches, and, in a field of 128 players, managed to battle his way to the final eight. Seven of the final eight players were ranked No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, No. 6, No. 20, No. 49, and No. 58 in the ATP World Tour rankings, respectively. Tennys was the eigth, ranked No. 97 in the world.

On Tuesday afternoon in Melbourne, Australia, the 26 year old defeated the No. 5 player in the world Dominic Thiem for a win that was unexpected, yet appreciated by most. Surely a career defining moment for the young Tennesseean.

After the match, when answering questions for the press, most of the inquiries were simple and what you would expect after this kind of contest, and so were his answers. However, one question wasn’t so simple:

“The rise in your profile has drawn attention to your social media output, which includes some political figures who might be considered outside the mainstream…I was just wondering if you were concerned about having yourself connected to some of these controversial figures?”

His response was educated, informed and enlightened, but at that point it didn’t matter. The proverbial cat was out of the proverbial bag. Tennys had become a pariah over his social media activity relating to what some would call the “alt-right.”

In response, he went into damage control, deleting most of his tweets from his Twitter profile and doing a television interview explaining his actions, saying he didn’t delete the tweets because they were “something that I’m necessarily embarrassed about.”

Why did he have to do this? The answer, like most political topics nowadays, is up for debate. What is even more confusing, however, is why this topic was even brought up in the first place. It’s not as if Tennys was waving a confederate flag on the court after his win, just as he wasn’t wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat during the match. He, like most professionals, kept his personal beliefs separate from his professional activities.

The thrill of winning the biggest match of his young career was likely tainted by an unnecessary question about an irrelevant topic at a ridiculous time.  And while you could argue that his Twitter activity was offensive or insensitive to some, you absolutely cannot tie it to his performance on the court.

To make matters worse, he lost his very next match in the Quarterfinals on Wednesday afternoon in Australia. After his loss, he doubled down on his own defense, saying, “With a handful of follows and some likes on Twitter, my fate has been sealed in your minds.”

What many would consider a dream run on one of the biggest stages in the sport has now become a week to forget for Tennys.

Did he loosely connect himself to a controversial movement? Maybe.

Should he have been more careful about associating himself with topics that may be considered controversial in today’s political climate? Probably.

Should he have had his social media accounts set to private? Most likely.

Was the timing of this question worth the answer?

Absolutely not.

Hopefully, there are more big wins still left in his career to come. Sandgren is definitely trending in a good direction — he seems to be playing some of the best tennis of his career, and his hard work is starting to pay off.

The next big event will be the Rio Open, which will begin on February 19. The next Grand Slam event is the French Open, and that will start on May 27. Four months seems like a long time, but Sandgren will have plenty of time to practice, get better, and make another run at a Grand Slam Title.

For now, though, he’s in the news for being “the controversial Twitter guy from tennis.” Tennys’ run in the Australian Open this year won’t be remembered for his play, and that’s a shame.

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