Man in black Ten­nys gets Cash-ed up

Clas­sic win­ner shows re­bel­lious side. By David Long and Marvin France.

Sunday Star-Times - - Sport -

For the last six months, Ten­nys Sand­gren has been car­ry­ing a Johnny Cash T-shirt in his bag to ten­nis tour­na­ments around the world.

But he’s never been able wear it – un­til now.

Born in Gal­latin, Ten­nessee, the for­mer home town of the late coun­try mu­sic icon, Sand­gren had al­ways wanted to pay trib­ute to Cash should he ever win his first ATP Tour ti­tle.

It was only a small mo­ti­va­tional ploy. But so of­ten at the elite level in sport, it’s the lit­tle things that get you across the line.

And no sooner had he clinched cham­pi­onship point against Cameron Nor­rie in the ASB Clas­sic fi­nal, did he don his black ‘Amer­i­can Rebel’ shirt to to cel­e­brate a ma­jor ca­reer break­through eight years af­ter turn­ing pro.

‘‘Just rep­ping Ten­nessee, man,’’ Sand­gren said in the post­match press con­fer­ence, still in dis­be­lief at the achieve­ment.

‘‘[Cash] lived in Gal­latin where I was born and raised and I got that from the Johnny Cash Mu­seum in Nashville, where I’m from. I thought that would be a cool shirt to rep if could win it – and I had an all-white shirt if I had lost.

‘‘I’m go­ing to wear it again some time, I hope. It will def­i­nitely have a spe­cial place.’’

Sand­gren flew through the tour­na­ment with­out drop­ping a set, cul­mi­nat­ing in a 6-4 6-2 win over Nor­rie.

The 27-year-old flew un­der the radar right up un­til the fi­nal.

But he was a model of con­sis­tency, con­tin­u­ally keep­ing the ball deep and pounc­ing on his op­po­nent’s mis­takes.

Time will tell if this will be a spring­board to fur­ther suc­cess. But hav­ing re­moved a sig­nif­i­cant men­tal hur­dle, he’s set him­self up to make a leap.

‘‘I’ve been work­ing hard to try and ac­com­plish this goal but to ac­tu­ally re­alise that mile­stone is a big deal,’’ said Sand­gren, who is set to go from 63rd to a ca­reer­high world rank­ing of 41.

‘‘I’ve been train­ing with that in­tent and I’ve known it was some­thing that was within my grasp.

‘‘But to ac­tu­ally do it, it ob­vi­ously feels re­ally good and it’s still sur­pris­ing.’’

Sand­gren had lost his last three matches against Nor­rie but he broke the Auck­land-raised Briton a to­tal of four times, while send­ing down seven aces.

The 23-year-old Nor­rie does ap­pear to have a bright fu­ture, de­spite the loss.

With the im­pend­ing re­tire­ment of Andy Mur­ray, the Bri­tish pub­lic are go­ing to be closely watch­ing Nor­rie, along with Kyle Ed­mund, from here and he’ll have to deal with the ex­tra ex­pec­ta­tion on him.

He and Sand­gren came on to the tour around the same time and the Amer­i­can has no doubt he can live up to those ex­pec­ta­tions.

‘‘He’s play­ing great. I thought to­day wasn’t his best day, I’ve def­i­nitely seen him play bet­ter against my­self,’’ Sand­gren said.

‘‘But he still did a lot of good things and I think he can beat al­most any­body he steps on court with.

‘‘He can con­tinue to climb and win tour­na­ments and be in sec­ond weeks of slams, I think that’s a real pos­si­bil­ity for sure.’’

Nor­rie had the home crowd on his side but saved his worst per­for­mance of the tour­na­ment for last.

Play­ing in his first ATP fi­nal, he was guilty of far too many un­forced er­rors.

PHO­TO­SPORT

Ten­nys Sand­gren at­tacks with a fore­hand shot dur­ing the ASB Clas­sic fi­nal against Cameron Nor­rie.

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