Sandgren Prevails at JSM Illinois Challenger
After a three year absence, the trophy at the University of Illinois JSM Champaign Challenger returned to a player with college roots.
Sandgren claimed his first Challenger Singles title
courtesy, Tennis Sandgren Facebook Page
After former Illini Amer Delic took the title at this Challenger in 2006, the event continued to go to past college players as it was won by Jesse Levine (Florida), Kevin Anderson (Illinois) and Michael Russell (Miami) from 2007 to 2009, respectively.
The landscape changed in 2010 with a win by Alex Bogomolov and then Alex Kuznetsov. Last year's winner, Tim Smyczek, had also decided to forego college, though he had quite a successful year after the win.
Former Tennessee Volunteer Tennys Sandgren changed the pattern with a win in this year's event that followed the elimination of three top seeds.
It seemed like nothing was easy in this end-of-season tournament as seeds fell and matches ran long. Fatigue was definitely in the air.
After Eric Crepaldi of Italy took out top-seeded Smyczek, the path to the finalist spot opened up for seventh-seeded Sam Groth. But he still had to get past former home court hero Dennis Nevolo.
Nevolo had beaten No. 6 Rik De Voest as well as Ed Corrie before taking out John Milton in an epic match, where he survived five match points in the third set tiebreaker before prevailing 3-6,6-1,7-6(7).
Fortunately for Groth, Nevolo didn't have quite enough left in the semis and went down, 7-6(6),6-4, before a large crowd applauding his run. But Nevolo was pleased with his accomplishments. "Playing back in Champaign was a huge inspiration for me," said Nevolo. "I love playing in front of the Illini family. I'm really looking forward to 2014."
Unseeded Sandgren had fought his way to the finals too. He beat Filip Peliwo, No. 2 Jack Sock, No. 8 JP Smith (also a former Vol) and Daniel Smethurst in the semifinals. In an exciting championship match, Sandgren was able to squeeze out 3-6,6-3,7-6(4) win over Groth.
Sandgren did not get the sweep, as he and Texas A&M grad Austin Krajicek (seeded two) lost in the finals of doubles to the unseeded team of Ed Corrie (University of Texas) and Daniel Smethurst. That match was yet another testament to the tournaments high caliber of players with a 7-6,0-6,10-7 score.
Though the sweep would have been nice, the singles win was especially sweet for Sandgren, who had lost in the semifinals the previous week to Smyczek in Knoxville.
Although Sandgren went to the University of Tennessee, he does have connections with the University of Illinois. His current coach, Billy Heiser, is a former member of the Illini tennis team. Sandgren is also sponsored by Athletic DNA, the clothing line whose founders include former Illinois player Michael Calkins.
"It's really special to win my first Challenger, especially here in Champaign," said Sandgren after the match. "Taking a step forward and winning my first Challenger feels great."