Dec. 13, 2012
BY AMANDA PRUITT
With the professional tennis season largely finished, all sights are set this week on the Australian Open and the wild cards up for grabs in Melbourne and Atlanta.
While John-Patrick Smith plays in the semifinals of Tennis Australia's wild card tournament in Melbourne Park itself, former teammates Rhyne Williams and Tennys Sandgren are set to begin the USTA Australian Open Wild Card Playoff on Friday in Norcross, Ga.
Williams faces former UCLA standout Daniel Kosakowski in the first round at 1 p.m., while Sandgren takes on former Stanford star Bradley Klahn at 2 p.m. on the indoor courts at Life Time Tennis, the former Racquet Club of the South.
It's been a strong year for the former All-Americans in their first full season on tour. All three ended the year ranked in the top 250 with Williams breaking into the top 200 in singles and Smith knocking on the door in the top 100 in doubles at No. 103.
Ranked No. 232, Sandgren has taken home the most singles trophies in 2012, winning four ITF Futures events around the United States and Canada. He's won tournaments on three surfaces: hard court, indoor hard court and clay. In doubles, he's won five titles there, including the $100,000 Sacramento Challenger with Williams.
While he was in town for the Knoxville Challenger in November, Sandgren took some time out to talk about his year on tour and his travels around the USTA Pro Circuit. Here are some excerpts from that interview:
Q: This has been your first full year on the pro circuit. How has it gone for you?
A: I say it went pretty well. There are two tournaments left, but I'm pretty happy with how I played this year. I got better and improved on a lot of things, which is important for me early on, to just keep improving and getting better and seeing how far I can take this.
Q: You've won four singles and five doubles titles this year. How have you been able to maintain that consistency?
A: It's not easy playing week in, week out and doing well week in, week out. It's hard on your body because you're playing so many matches and not getting any kind of break. I feel like I was getting in a good kind of rhythm as far as practicing and keeping my body healthy. I was playing well, so I didn't mess with too many things, just kept everything the same.
Q: Life in Florida, how's that going?
A: (laughs) Well, I don't feel like I live in Florida. I feel like I live in the US. I spend about as many weeks in Florida as I spend anywhere else, basically. It's nice down there. The training's good. It's nice being down there with Rhyne. It's fun.
Q: You've played a fair amount of tournaments by yourself this year, but you've also played about half the tournaments with Rhyne Williams. What's it like being able to travel with someone you know so well?
A: It's nice when Rhyne and I have the same tournament because we play doubles and practice together quite a bit. It's nice to have that familiarity in places that sometimes aren't very familiar. That definitely helps out a lot. I feel like when you kind of try to do that when you don't have a coach. You try to do that at every tournament. There are guys that you know, especially playing in the states, there are guys that you know and guys that I'll stay with.
It helps being there with somebody, especially when you lose. When you're winning, you couldn't care less who you're around, but when you lose, it helps to have a friend there who can keep you out of the darkness and stay positive.
Q: What are three important things you've learned about travel in the last year?
A: There are so many things about travel ...
Q: Well, then we don't have to limit them to three.
A: Always pack the day before you're leaving, unless you are leaving in the afternoon. Then you can pack in the morning. Don't leave packing til the morning of your departure. Not smart.
Same with laundry. Don't have any outstanding laundry due on the day that you are leaving. You do laundry the night beforehand.
Sleep. There's nothing worse than being in an airport not close to 100 percent. You have to be somewhere near 100 percent to be able to deal with people and the nonsense that goes with being at the airport.
When you are going on an extended trip, don't take the maximum amount of stuff in your bag. Maybe you leave a little bit of space because you're collecting things along the way, whether it's trophies, whether it's tournament shirts, whether you buy a new pair of shoes, I don't know. You're bound to collect stuff. If you're bag is at full capacity and you have to fly, you will be stressed out about what to do with your extra stuff, so leave some room on the way. And if you do those things, you'll be all right.
One more thing: have a good travel agent. Whether it's your mom, like mine, or an actual travel agent, it always helps to have somebody that you can call and say, `Can you look at flights for me because I looked at the flights and don't know what I saw? Can you please decipher what that sheet is on the Internet?' That helps.
Q: I take it you've experienced the wrong end of all these things?
A: Yes, I have. Way too many times.
Q: Where have been some of your favorite places to play this year?
A: Knoxville, come on. (laughs) I enjoyed the Futures in Little Rock. I have some friends there, and it was awesome and I got to stay with them. I enjoyed playing there. I enjoy any time I can play in the South.
A couple tournaments in California were really nice. A couple tournaments in California weren't so nice. I liked Winnetka, even though it was as hot as hell. The area is kind of cool. It was nice. They had a big crowd for their matches, which was fun. The US Open was fun, obviously. It's always fun in New York, with all the big boys.
Q: What's it like getting to come back to Knoxville? You still have all your Tennessee gear, I see.
A: I always wear my Tennessee stuff, but it's nice to be back in Knoxville. It feels like a second home, third home. One of the homes. It's nice to see the team and to see Sam and Woody. I definitely like it here a lot.