A thoroughly unpredictable Australian Open has become a thoroughly delightful prospect for the inaugural New York Open at Nassau Coliseum next month.
Korean Hyeon Chung scored a shocking upset of six-time Aussie champion Novak Djokovic on Monday night, and the last American man standing, the completely unheralded Tennys Sandgren, pulled off an equally impressive upset of No. 5 seed Dominic Thiem. They will play each other in the quarterfinals on Wednesday.
The 21-year-old Chung defeated Djokovic, 7-6 (4), 7-5, 7-6 (3), with an impressive array of groundstrokes and court coverage strikingly similar to Djokovic, who is Chung’s inspiration. Djokovic was returning from a six-month layoff to rehab his right elbow and his back, but his elbow clearly was giving him problems again.
Sandgren, a 26-year-old from Tennessee who got his first victory in a Grand Slam match to start this tournament and ousted three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka in the second round, played and won his first five-set match in beating Thiem, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-7 (7), 6-3.
Chung, who won the ATP Next Gen championship in November in Milan by beating Andrey Rublev, was one of the first players to commit to the New York Open and was ranked high enough to get into the main draw in the 28-player field. Sandgren entered at the deadline of Jan. 1 but was not ranked high enough to get into the main draw. He is an alternate who hasn’t entered the qualifying so he likely would need a wild card, which is a real possibility.
New York Open tournament director Josh Ripple wasn’t overjoyed at the promotional prospects for his tournament when his top two players, Americans John Isner and Sam Querrey, were knocked out in the early rounds at Melbourne last week. Then again he couldn’t have foreseen the success of Chung, a player he actively recruited.
“We’re geniuses with our player recruiting,” Ripple said with a laugh on Monday. “In all seriousness, when we were looking at the player field and looking at the marketplace, we wanted to find players from various countries that may resonate with the populations here. From a tennis standpoint, the overall Asian-American tennis community is quite robust. So in looking at a kid like Kei Nishikori [from Japan and in the New York Open field] we knew he would be very attractive and with a kid like Chung, where there is a growing avid Korean tennis population here, we thought that would be a good play and he was one of the first player procurement deals we did. I knew he was a good player and he made us look good when he won the ATP Tour Next Gen competition.”
Chung and Sandgren had predictable reactions to their unpredictable successes.
“When I’m young, I’m just trying to copy Novak because he’s my idol,” said Chung, who has gained the nickname “The Professor” because he wears glasses when he plays. “I can’t believe this tonight. Dreams come true tonight.”
“I don’t know if this is a dream or not — all you guys are here, so maybe it’s not,” Sandgren said in an on-court TV interview after his win. “I’m not in my underwear, so maybe it’s not a dream.”
As for Sandgren’s chances of a wild card to get into the New York Open, Ripple said, “For sure, he would be a consideration.”