MELBOURNE, Australia — After losing in the Australian Open quarter-finals on Wednesday, Tennys Sandgren saved his final shot of the tournament for the media.
Sandgren opened his news conference following a 6-4, 7-6 (5), 6-3 loss to Hyeon Chung by reading a prepared statement directed at the media that has scrutinized his Twitter feed during his unexpected run at Melbourne Park.
“With a handful of follows and some likes on Twitter, my fate has been sealed in your minds,” Sandgren said, reading from his mobile phone. “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.”
Sandgren refused to answer questions about his statement, saying that the focus around him “has gone very far away from the tennis.”
If one thing is clear after the past few days, it certainly has.
Given what he’s accomplished on the courts at Melbourne Park, Sandgren’s story was initially focused on his tennis. The 26-year-old Tennessee native has never come close to experiencing this type of success before. Prior to coming to Melbourne, Sandgren was a mainstay on the second-tier Challenger Tour, the minor leagues of tennis. He had only won two matches at the ATP Tour level — and never played in a Grand Slam.
But in Melbourne, Sandgren came out of nowhere to stun two top-10 players — Stan Wawrinka and Dominic Thiem — en route to being just the second man in the last 20 years to reach the quarter-finals on his Australian Open debut.
What started off as a fairytale story, though, began to change tenor when Sandgren’s social media activity came to light.
Before he scrubbed his Twitter history on Tuesday, Sandgren’s tweets had included one saying the unfounded “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory linking Democrats to a child-sex ring at a Washington pizzeria was “sickening and the collective evidence is too much to ignore.”
Among his recent retweets was a video by Nicholas Fuentes, former host of a podcast called “America First” who attended last year’s white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va.
And he apparently targeted Serena Williams, calling a video of her yelling at Roberta Vinci during their U.S. Open semifinal in 2015 “disgusting.”
Williams had apparently taken notice, sending her own tweet during Sandgren’s match, saying “Turns channel” — a message her followers interpreted as a response.
Sandgren has defended his social media activity this week, denying being a supporter of the far right while saying he finds “some of the content interesting.”
“Who you follow on Twitter I feel doesn’t matter even a little bit,” he said following his win over Thiem. “To say, well, he’s following X person, so he believes all the things that this person believes, I think it’s ridiculous.”
He explained in an interview with ESPN that he deleted all of his tweets not because it’s “something that I’m really necessary embarrassed about,” but because he thought that “creating a version of a cleaner start is not a bad call.”
With his prepared statement on Wednesday, though, Sandgren made clear he’s done explaining his tweets.
“You seek to put people in these little boxes so that you can order the world in your already assumed preconceived ideas,” he said, addressing reporters at his news conference. “You strip away any individuality for the sake of demonizing by way of the collective.”
Refusing to take any more questions about social media, Sandgren then shifted gears and offered praise for his quarter-final opponent, Chung.
Later, though, he did return to the subject briefly to offer perspective on the storm of attention he’s received in the past week and a half, saying he was going to go home, turn his phone off and reflect on everything that’s happened.
“I constantly try to be introspective as to what’s going on in my life,” he said. “This has been a lot of information to digest in the last few weeks. So I need to take ample time to do so, so I can move forward correctly.”
Chung, meanwhile, will face Roger Federer in the semifinals on Friday. Federer, 36, swept aside Tomas Berdych 7-6 (1), 6-3, 6-4 on Wednesday to become the oldest man to reach the semis at a major since Jimmy Connors’ run at the 1991 U.S. Open at age 39. Marin Cilic and Kyle Edmund meet in the other men’s singles semifinal on Thursday.
Simona Halep, the top women’s seed, recovered from an early service break and won nine straight games en route to a 6-3, 6-2 victory over No. 6-seeded Karolina Pliskova on Wednesday to reach the Australian Open semifinals for the first time. She’ll face 2016 champion Angelique Kerber, while No. 2 seed Caroline Wozniacki will match up with Elise Mertens.