TOKYO — If nothing else, Tennys Sandgren is honest about the position he finds himself in as the last hope for American tennis to avoid being shut out from the medal stand at the these Olympics, something that hasn’t happened since 1920, when no Americans entered the tournament.
“To be fair, we probably shouldn’t even be playing,” Sandgren said, referring to himself and doubles partner Austin Krajicek, who only made the U.S. team because the highest-ranked American men decided that playing an ATP 250 event in Atlanta this week would be a better use of their time.
But regardless of how they made it here, Sandgren and Krajicek could very well leave with a bronze medal. After losing a brutally close 6-4, 6-4 semifinal to the world’s No. 1-ranked doubles team of Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic of Croatia on Thursday, they’ll return Friday to face New Zealand’s Marcus Daniell and Michael Venus for third place.
“We’ll both be champing at the bit, I’m sure, and it’ll be tough to contain the energy,” Sandgren said.
In a world where we knew less about our athletes, where we didn’t have access to so many of their thoughts and beliefs, the opportunity for a couple journeyman pros to attain something so significant for Team USA would be universally hailed as one of the feel-good stories of the Tokyo Olympics.
And yet, Sandgren understands as well as anyone that a lot of tennis fans – a lot of American tennis fans – will be actively rooting for him to lose Friday.
“Everything is polarizing,” Sandgren said. “Everything is turned into something that it isn’t.”
In this instance, Sandgren wasn’t talking about himself, though he easily could have been. He was answering a question about the discourse back in the U.S. that has bubbled up since Simone Biles pulled out of the team all-around competition due to mental health concerns, a moment that has become catnip for some politically conservative talking heads.
“I have no idea what it’s like to have the weight of that much expectation on your shoulders,” Sandgren said. “Everybody should be respecting her and respecting her choice and respecting how she’s doing and how she’s dealing with being a human because she’s a human first. I think that’s the most important thing and all this other polarization nonsense is people kicking political footballs.”
Of course, suggesting that Biles’ situation or the general discussion around athletes’ mental health is a symbol of American decline is little more than a ridiculous outrage grift.
But it’s no longer an outlier.
At these Olympics, large numbers of Americans are rooting against the U.S. men’s basketball team because Gregg Popovich was an outspoken critic of former President Trump. Just a few days ago, Trump encouraged a crowd at one of his events to boo the U.S. women’s soccer team, which had lost its first match of the Olympics.
This is where we are. And it’s where we are with Sandgren, too, albeit…
Read More: Tennys Sandgren is USA’s last chance for Tokyo Olympics tennis medal 2021-07-29 19:08:21