Controversial tennis pro Tennys Sandgren is making his Wimbledon debut today against one of the most popular players in the sport: three-time champion Novak Djokovic of Serbia. The pair have never played against each other before, largely due to the fact that Sandgren has repeatedly failed to qualify for Grand Slam tournaments thus far in his career.
Djokovic, who begins play today as the #12 seed, spent half of 2017 sidelined as he recovered from an elbow injury. Some analysts including tennis legend John McEnroe question whether the time away negatively impacted his mental game. McEnroe recently said Djokovic had “lost that fire, the look in his eye, I don’t see it any more.” If Djokovic comes out shaky, that could create an opportunity for Sandgren to pull off what would be a stunning first-round upset. Sandgren would also love to give fans an opportunity to talk about his court skills, instead of his off-the-court controversies.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Tennys Sandgren Recently Had the Best Performance of His Career in Australia
The 26-year-old from Gallatin, Tennessee turned pro in 2011. But he’s spent most of his time playing on the ATP Challenger Tour, and has struggled to qualify for Grand Slams. At the U.S. Open in August of 2017, he went out in the first round.
But something lit a fire under him before the Australian Open in January 2018. He defeated Dominic Thiem of Austria, who at the time was ranked #5 in the world, in Sandgren’s first five-set match at a Grand Slam. Sandgren was unable to keep that streak going however. In the quarterfinals, he failed to win a single set against Hyeon Chung of South Korea, losing in straight sets. Sandgren’s next Grand Slam appearance was at Roland-Garros in May. He again lost in the first round.
Sandgren is currently ranked #57 in the world, according to the ATP. He first broke the top 100 at the end of 2017. His career earnings total just over $1 million, most of which he has made this year alone ($608,333).
2. Sandgren Has Been Accused of Being Involved With the Alt-Right
The success in Australia exposed Sandgren to much more attention than he has ever received before. That spotlight revealed social media activity that called into question whether Sandgren was involved in the alt-right, or at least supported its activities. The people he followed included controversial figures such as Nicholas Fuentes, who the New York Times referred to as an alt-right commentator and former host of a podcast called “America First.”
Sandgren also made headlines for getting into a Twitter debate with retired tennis star James Blake about police brutality. In 2015, Blake was mistaken for a suspect in New York and was slammed to the ground by a white police officer. (You can see screenshots of the Twitter exchange here). Sandgren also appeared to feed into the debunked “Pizzagate” controversy, in which Hillary Clinton was accused of running a child sex ring out of a pizza shop. He posted “It’s sickening and the collective evidence is too much to ignore,” in response to a Twitter conversation labeled “Pizzagate.”
Sandgren denied that he was sympathetic to the alt-right movement. He defended himself by arguing that while he found some of the content interesting, that did not mean he agreed with the message. He compared the situation to how people consume the news. He told reporters, “If you watch a news channel you wouldn’t then say that that person who’s watching a news channel thinks everything that that news channel puts out.” Amid all the backlash, Sandgren scrubbed the vast majority of his twitter feed.
3. Sandgren Was Slammed For a Tweet Featuring Serena Williams
In 2012, Sandgren shared an article that featured a picture of Serena Williams screaming on the tennis court. He wrote one comment: “Disgusting.” Critics slammed the tweet as racist. It has since been deleted, but screenshots were widely shared across the Internet.
That comment came roaring back into the spotlight during the Australian Open in January, amid the scrutiny of Sandgren’s links to alt-right supporters on Twitter. At that time, Williams did not specifically address the “disgusting” tweet. But she targeted Sandgren during his match against Hyeon Chung on Twitter, by implying that she was changing the channel and refusing to watch.
Williams later tweeted at Sandgren that while she did not want or need a direct apology, the rest of the public deserved one. She wrote that “there is a entire group of people that deserves an apology. I cant look at my daughter and tell her I sat back and was quiet. No! she will know how to stand up for herself and others- through my example.”
4. Sandgren Tried to Defend Himself By Criticizing the Media
During a press conference at the Australian Open, Sandgren initially held off reporter questions about his match in order to read a prepared statement from his phone. He defended himself against the backlash concerning his social media activity by going on the offensive.
“You 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.
With a handful of follows and some likes on Twitter, my fate has been sealed in your minds. To write an edgy story, to create sensationalist coverage, there are a few lengths you wouldn’t go to to mark me as the man you desperately want me to be.
You would rather perpetuate propaganda machines instead of researching information from a host of angles and perspectives while being willing to learn, change, and grow.
You dehumanize with pen and paper and turn neighbor against neighbor. In so doing, you may actually find you’re hastening the hell you wish to avoid, the hell we all wish to avoid.
It is my firm belief that the highest value must be placed on the virtue of each individual, regardless of gender, race, religion or sexual orientation. It’s my job to continue on this journey with the goal of becoming the best me I can and to embody the love Christ has for me, for I answer to Him and Him alone.”
5. Sandgren is Dating Former ESPN Reporter Britt McHenry
The American tennis player is making headlines for a completely different reason in recent weeks: he is reportedly dating former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry. She shared pictures of the two on Instagram beginning in early June. McHenry is now a Fox News commentator.
McHenry is not without her own controversy. The conservative commentator was let go from ESPN in 2017. Upon her departure, she claimed on Twitter that she was unfairly targeted because she is white. She also stated that ESPN wanted to fire her because she earned too much money. Those tweets have since been deleted from McHenry’s account.
In April of 2015, a video of McHenry insulting an employee of a towing company went viral. McHenry’s car had been towed, and she was paying the attendant to get it back– but not before telling the woman “lose some weight, baby girl” and saying she was uneducated. McHenry was suspended after the incident.
The TV host has not indicated on social media whether she will be in the stands today cheering on Sandgren at Wimbledon. Sandgren’s match against Djokovic begins at 11:15AM ET.
Source: Heavy Sports