By Nick Mulvenney
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – World number 100 Tennys Sandgren reached the quarter-finals of the Australian Open for the second time in three years with a 7-6(5) 7-5 6-7(2) 6-4 victory over combustible Italian Fabio Fognini on Sunday.
The American took a two-set lead, held his nerve as his 12th-seeded opponent suffered a meltdown and triumphed after a rollercoaster ride of a match to set up a last-eight meeting with Roger Federer or Marton Fucsovics.
Fognini had battled through two five-set matches at the tournament, including coming from two sets down in the opening round, and another looked on the cards when he won the third set on the tiebreak.
The fourth set stayed on serve until Sandgren produced three straight aces to hold for 5-4 and carried the momentum through to the following game, wrapping up the win with a drop shot from his knees at the net after a 26-stroke rally.
Sandgren dropped his racket to the floor and gave a flamboyant bow to the crowd as Fognini walked around the net to offer his congratulations.
“That was fun right?” Sandgren said. “Playing him is just a war you know, he’s so good. I was expecting a fight and I got it.”
That the match finished with a display of mutual respect was by no means guaranteed after Fognini had protested against a call at the end of the first set and then stormed off court for seven minutes on a toilet break.
Sandgren accused the referee of lacking the courage to penalize Fognini, who was subsequently docked a point penalty for refusing to play after being broken in his first service game of the second set.
Fognini, complaining of blisters, ripped off his shirt and protested about that call too. After going 4-0 down, the Italian won the next five games but, as the players continued to snipe at each other across the net, Sandgren edged the set.
Fognini did not want to discuss the incidents after the match and Sandgren said he was unclear what had happened.
“It seemed odd… I was just trying to keep my composure and stay focused,” he said.
“Sometimes I can mouth off a little bit as far as speaking my mind as a way to vent. I was getting a little frustrated as to why we weren’t playing yet.”
Sandgren’s run to the last eight in 2018 was shrouded in controversy because of links to far-right activists on his social media account.
Since then, he has played a last-16 match at Wimbledon and reached the third round at the U.S. Open.
Sunday’s victory was his fifth against a player ranked in the top 20 at a Grand Slam, a remarkable record for a man who has spent much of his career playing on satellite tours.
“Maybe I haven’t had that many looks or wasn’t supposed to. Maybe I shouldn’t be here,” Sandgren said when asked to explain it.
“Getting to play… in front of a lot of people, because I’ve played a lot of tennis in front of very few people, the fact I get to do that seems to bring out the best tennis in me.”
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Clare Fallon)