A day after celebrating his 25th birthday, top-seeded Tennys Sandgren defeated qualifier Rhyne Williams 6-2, 7-5 to advance to the final match Saturday at the 19th annual Men’s Pro Tennis Classic at Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey.
Sandgren v. Williams
The contest was tied early, at 1-1 and 2-2, before Sandgren took three consecutive points for a 5-2 edge, coasting to the first set win.
“I think I played a pretty good match today,” Sandgren said. “To get it done in straight sets definitely feels good.”
The second set was tied at 1 and 5 before Sandgren outlasted Williams on a few long volleys.
Williams was down 5-3 and appeared to be showing his frustration, tossing his racket a few times, but rallied to get it to 5-4 after a fifth deuce point. Sandgren then served for the win, but Williams earned a break point. Williams was up 40-love and Sandgren almost got it to 40-40, but Williams’ volley glanced off the top of the net, settling in for a winner that Sandgren gave up on.
“That’s how I get broken, really,” Sandgren yelled to himself as the shot tied it up at 5.
The match was briefly halted midway through the second set.
Ahead 4-3, Sandgren had a blister open up on his hand. It was sealed up with super glue before play continued. Sandgren took a 5-3 advantage, but Williams battled back.
Tied at 5-all, it appeared Williams may break through. He was seeking his third straight point after being down 5-3 and led 30-love.
“That game was real tight,” Sandgren said. “I wasn’t moving, and he had an open court, and he went for a really tough shot, and he missed it.”
“That was kind up brutal, especially after being up 30-love, I thought I had the game won. Not good on my point to not hold there,” Williams said.
Sandgren’s powerful serve led to seven aces in the semifinal victory. Williams secured two aces.
“I came out a little bit flat,” Williams said. “I’ve played a lot of tennis, so I was pretty worn out.”
This was Williams’ seventh single’s match in Godfrey. He also took part in three doubles matches.
Williams said Sandgren started strong, led by his serve.
“He served probably one of the better matches I’ve seen him serve, so I have to give a lot of credit to him,” Williams said. “He started hot and his level stayed pretty much the same throughout the match. I tried to fight back in the second set, and squandered a few chances at 5-all. All in all, I thought it was a pretty good week for me.
“Luckily, my body held up,” Williams said.
Originally from Knoxville, Tenn., Williams now lives in Tampa. Both he and Sandgren attended the University of Tennessee together, leaving in 2011 after playing a couple years there.
Sandgren and Williams are best friends, and have been playing against each other since they were 12. Williams doesn’t get all that excited about playing his friend.
“It’s not fun,” Williams said. “It’s actually terrible.”
Sandgren now owns a 4-2 advantage in head-to-head matchups against Williams.
Facing his friend is always difficult, Sandgren noted.
“It’s definitely tough to have that cut throat mentality that you want in sports,” Sandgren said. “Any time we play, it’s kind of a lose-lose, because you don’t want your friend to lose either.”
Sandgren is from Gallatin, Tenn. He won the singles event in Godfrey in 2011.
Sandgren takes on the other semifinal winner, Facundo Mena of Argentina, at L&C Sunday morning at 10 a.m. at court no. 2.
“I want to try to stay as calm as I can, fight for every point,” Sandgren said. “Hopefully I can serve well and get some free ones.”
Sandgren plans on competing in all four Illinois events. Prior to competing in Godfrey, he took part in a singles event in Winnipeg.
“It’s gonna be tough, it’s gonna be hot,” he said.
The temperature was just above 90 degrees when the semifinal matches started Saturday morning, but Sandgren thought it could’ve been worse.
“I feel like the last two days have been slightly cooler,” Sandgren. “You know that if you have a tough match it’s going to be physical exhausting. It takes a lot of mental strength to give yourself a chance.”
The Williams and Sandgren match lasted one hour and 56 minutes. Each player had nearly an identical first serve in percentage (Sandgren, 37 of 60, 61.7 percent; Williams, 40 of 68, 58.8 percent)
Mena vs. Bambridge
Facundo Mena needed a tiebreaker in the third set to hold off Luke Bambridge, 21, of Great Britain, in the other semifinal 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (7-1).
“I started well, played through a couple of tough games early on,” Bambridge said. He caught a break at 5-4 to win the first set.
The match was tied four times in the first set and four times in the third set. Mena took the first four points in the tiebreaker on his way to the semifinal win.
“It’s nice,” Mena said. “I didn’t expect the final … I didn’t play really, really good, but I had a good attitude.”
Facundo, 23, hadn’t faced Bambridge in an ITF Pro Circuit event.
Bambridge held the edge in aces (8-3) but also had more double faults (5-1).
Mena won 13 of 15 service games while Bambridge won 12 of 15 service games.
The entire match last two hours and 23 minutes. The third set only was 59 minutes, with each player winning three games in a row at one stretch.
Bambridge admitted there were a lot of distractions. At one point, one of the ball girls was struck in the face. She continued until the end of the second set.
“I was starting to get frustrated easily,” Bambridge said, adding the heat and humidity has been a factor the past few days. He plans in taking part in the remainder of the “Illinois Swing” which includes weeklong events in Edwardsville, Decatur and Champaign.
“I’m looking forward to the next few weeks,” Bambridge said. He plans to play in single’s and doubles.
“It’s tough to get used to because it’s so hot.”
Despite the semifinal loss, Bambridge was optimistic.
“It’s a good week for me,” he said.
Each semifinal winner in single’s play receives $1,255. The winner takes home $3,600 and the runner-up receives $2,120.