The story of Tennys Sandgren is the final proof—if any more were needed—that being really, really good at hitting small yellow balls with a crosshatch of string suspended across a metal oval—or kicking a round ball, or passing an oval one, etc etc—, doesn’t make you worthy of intellectual adulation also.
The story could’ve been a different one. Making his Australian Open and Grand Slam debut, Sandgren beat two top 10 players—Stan Wawrinka and Dominic Thiem—on his way to the quarter finals. He’s just the second man to make it that far his first appearance in the tournament in the past 20 years.
His ascent attracted attention, not least to the Tennessee native’s—since-scrubbed-clean—Twitter account. One tweet linked Hillary Clinton and the Democrats to a child-sex ring, saying it was “sickening and the collective evidence is too much to ignore”; another screenshot of a Tweet attributed to the 26-year-old described how a visit to a gay nightclub had left his “eyes bleeding”. A host of his recent retweets and follows suggest far-right sympathies. Which he admitted to “finding some of the content interesting.” Sandgren has now deleted his tweets to “make a cleaner start”.
But mainly, and depressingly, the story of Tennys Sandgren seems like just another indication of how far the language of Donald Trump, a year into his presidency, has insinuated itself into popular culture. Sandgren’s final press conference contained many of the tricks we’ve become accustomed to in this age of the ad hominem.
Rather than self-analysis or justification, Sandgren lashed out at the media. “You seek to put people in these little boxes so that you can order the world in your already-assumed preconceived ideas,” he said at the press conference, reading from his phone. “You strip away any individuality for the sake of demonising 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.”
A familiar sentiment. The only surprise is to hear it coming from an athlete in peak physical fitness rather than the doughy, but supposedly healthy, figure of Donald Trump. It breeds a familiar response, too, one neatly summarised by Serena Williams’ two-word tweet: “Turns channel”.