13 Jan 2019

ASB Classic still a thriller despite Norrie loss

2:02 pm on 13 January 2019

Opinion - Congratulations Tennys Sandgren, not only for winning the 2019 men's ASB Classic, but for also picking up the trophy wearing a Johnny Cash T-shirt to represent his Nashville heritage.

Tennys Sandgren from the US.

Tennys Sandgren from the US. Photo: Photosport

He had been carrying it with him in his gear bag for a year, planning on putting it on once he won his first title.

The wardrobe change came at the end of a surprisingly straightforward 6-4, 6-2 win over (sort of) local Cameron Norrie, who unfortunately saved his worst game of the week for last.

In the big picture, it doesn't really matter that Ninews://RNZNEWS/3_NEWS.4_WEB_NEWS.AIR.jpWALL-REACTION9/05334d3c-018e36f1-20pm

orrie didn't win. He proved his point about how foolish the decision by Tennis NZ to let him go was when he made the second round. Now, with the news coming in yesterday that Andy Murray is set to retire, he can look forward to a solid spot in Great Britain's Davis Cup team for the next few seasons at least. Our loss is definitely their gain, but it's likely Norrie will be a regular fixture back at the ASB Classic.

It took until the semi-final for him to give up a breakpoint, which is an outstanding stat. In his first match though, that would have been unforgivable. His opponent, Frenchman Benoit Paire, essentially tanked the game in protest of having to play during the Monday session.

But his second round, quarter and semi-finals were studies in composure and skill. The 23-year-old has a bright future ahead of him, and is probably going to have to get used to New Zealand living vicariously through his successes.

Sandgren, meanwhile, is set up nicely to replicate his run at the Australian Open last year where he made the quarterfinals.

It has to be said, though, that everyone he played in Auckland managed to have a bad day at the office. His semi-final against Philipp Kohlschreiber was remarkably one-sided, even more so because the German had just breezed past second seed Fabio Fognini.

That result was seemingly another dagger blow for tournament organisers, with the Italian proving to be a hit with fans with his exaggerated mannerisms and Armani attire. They already had to cope with the loss of three seeds before the tournament began, then top seed John Isner bombing out in the first round.

So new narratives had to be created. Rubin Statham, who had been handed a wildcard, stepped up and forced his way into the headlines with a shock straight sets win over Hyeong Chung.

The Kiwi bled all over the court but elicited easily the best atmosphere all week with the stunning win. Then Norrie's success meant New Zealand fans finally had a couple of heroes of their own to cling to as top players were knocked out.

Crowd attendance was at a record high over the fortnight. There wasn't any rain, so we didn't have to whinge about there not being a roof.

There are far worse gigs in sports media than the ASB Classic, it's pretty sweet sitting in an airconditioned room watching world class tennis while dressed up folk sip champagne and beer.

Now we can keep a good eye on the Australian Open, if Cameron Norrie can keep up his run of good form then he can expect plenty more headlines in the country of his upbringing. Meanwhile, Sandgren will be to pull on his Johnny Cash shirt more often.

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