The Brothers Sandgren

In the case of the Tennessee men's tennis team, one bond can arguably shine through the rest. This spring's Tennessee men's tennis team features something Volunteer fans have not seen since 1997.

Brothers Davey and Tennys Sandgren are relishing the 2010 tennis season, lining up as teammates for the Volunteers.

For those lucky enough to share brothers, the dream of playing sports as teammates is one that usually ends in high school

"It's wonderful to see," said Head Coach Sam Winterbotham. "Having two brothers myself, I would have loved to play on the same collegiate team as my brother. For Davey and Tennys to be able to play on the level we're playing at is something special."

Sadly, it's a dream season that will last less than half a year.

Davey, a senior in aerospace engineering, is months away from concluding his college tennis career in late May.

On the other hand, younger brother Tennys, who began his collegiate tennis campaign in January as an early enrollee, is the truest definition of a freshman.

Had it not been for the early enrollment, these brothers would have never shared these five special months.

"It's great to have him here for the semester," Davey said. "We have good memories so far and we can get a few more down the road at NCAAs."

At the rate the Volunteers are moving, there are plenty of shining memories left for the taking.

Tennessee currently sits at 17-1, with a No. 2 ranking according to the International Tennis Association.

"It's great, hopefully we'll have some good memories of the season," Tennys said.

"We already have good memories," he adds.

The season will inevitably serve as one of the greatest chapters in the family's tennis history – a lineage that stretches decades long and as far away as South Africa.

"Well our dad played professionally on the satellite tour growing up and our mom played when she was on USTA and PTR leagues," Davey said. "We got involved in tennis when we were really young and it became a great family sport for us."

David Sandgren, a Michigan native, followed the sport to South Africa in the 1970s, where he resided for nearly 10 years, playing professionally before opening a business.

Appropriately, it was at a local tennis club where David would meet Lia.

"We got married, and Davey was born in South Africa in Johannesburg," Lia Sandgren said. "After Davey was born my husband decided it was time to return to the States because things were deteriorating very fast in South Africa."

The political strife in South Africa would land the family in the town of Gallatin, Tennessee, where their new home included a welcoming, albeit overrun, presence in the backyard.

"When we first got it, it was covered in ivy and vines; the thing was a wreck," Davey said. "Me and my dad, Tennys wasn't quite old enough to help, we redid the court, took all the stuff off. When we were older we all resurfaced it."

While other boys were mowing lawns and trimming the hedges under the eyes of watchful fathers, the Sandgren boys were laying concrete and painting lines.

"We've resurfaced it twice now," Tennys said. "Resurfacing a court is not easy, for people that really have never done it before. It was difficult for four or five days."

"You have to pressure wash it, then lay a foundation of concrete," Davey said. "You have to wash it again; then put the paint down twice and the lines."

It was a tiring, expensive sacrifice that the family gladly exchanged in return for memorable afternoons in the backyard.

"To resurface a tennis court is anywhere between three to six thousand dollars," Lia said. "The little bit of money that there has been has gone into the boys' tennis, which is fine. We're glad we did."

The revived tennis court would serve as a Sandgren sanctuary, where the boys surrendered countless days together honing their game.

Davey became a regular at the sport by the age of 10, playing in youth tournaments while Tennys, an infant at the time, watched curiously from the sidelines.

"We called him "Tennys-tag" because he was tagging along with Davey and I to all the tournaments," Lia said. "He just wanted to play so badly, ever since he was in diapers."

Games played at the home court between young Davey and his mother would occasionally be interrupted by the diaper streaking toddler.

"He (Tennys) was just a little pill," Lia said. "He'd be running around in his diapers, always darting across. He got hit with a ball so many times."

To those unacquainted with the Sandgrens, the name of their youngest can sometimes amplify perceptions about the family's marriage to the sport, although tennis with an "I" might as well be the third sibling; the sport rests between the brothers in a state of permanence as thick as their own blood.

"Actually Tennys' name, it's his great-grandfather's," said Lia. "My husband's grandfather was Tennys Sandgren. I almost named Davey Tennys, but I wasn't quite brave enough at that time. My husband was quite a big-time tennis player and I knew people were going to go, ‘Oh, you named your son after the sport?' "

"When Tennys was born I was no longer so concerned about other people's opinions. I love family names so we named him after his great-grandfather."

Years of playing cheerleader for big brother wore thin for Tennys, who eventually won his right to compete.

"Tennys was obviously going with us," Lia said. "He had just turned seven and he kept asking, ‘Mom please, I'm going anyway can't you just enter me?' So I entered him and lo and behold, when we got there a player didn't show for his match, so Tennys got in and actually won … and then we had a little monster."

Tennys said, "He (Davey) played a lot of the bigger Southern tournaments, state tournaments. I kind of followed him around, my mom would take me. I started playing regularly after that."

As Tennys began to write his stories in the family, Davey was attracting the eyes of college recruiters.

Texas, Kentucky, Georgia Tech and Harvard actively recruited Davey while he attended Aaron Academy.

"Davey had no intentions of going to Tennessee, mainly because no one recruited him," Lia said. "Harvard had accepted him, Georgia Tech had accepted him. They have a fabulous aerospace engineering program there (at Georgia Tech), so he had pretty much decided."

Former Tennessee head coach Chris Mahony would suddenly come calling, eventually winning Davey's commitment.

Tempted by Mahony's knowledge of short-distance net presence in tennis, Davey aspired to strengthen the weakest part of his game.

However, only six months later, Mahony would accept an offer to become a coach with the Tennis Australia program.

"It was a wonderful opportunity for him," Lia said. "He left and we were really devastated."

Relief would come in the form of Sam Winterbotham, an up-and-coming coach from the University of Colorado.

Winterbotham would quickly earn the trust of Davey and lead a resurgence of the program.

"Chris Mahony recruited me and Sam came in my middle fall," Davey said. "I think we were ranked like 40 as a team. We gradually got up to number two. He's done a great job, he's extremely competitive, a great recruiter."

Under Winterbotham, Davey would be paired with junior J.P. Smith on doubles, where the duo would earn All-America honors in 2009 and ascend to a number one ranking.

While Davey sharpened his short game in school, Tennys attended multiple international tournaments throughout his high school days.

"The last two years we've been overseas; probably six out of the 12 months, not consecutively," Lia said. "I have missed most of Davey's spring seasons and now for the first time this season I have been able to attend every single match that I can and just enjoy it."

Tennys would reach as high as No. 4 in the International Tennis Federation's junior world rankings, leading TennisRecruiting.net to declare him the top recruit in the nation in 2009.

"I have a pretty good hold on it," Tennys said. "He (Sam) helps to keep expectations low, for you not to put too much pressure on yourself."

"The Sandgren family is a wonderful family," Winterbotham said. "We knew coming in that Tennys was a good guy, has good values and a solid foundation. There was no doubt that he'd be able to come and play on our team. He has the experience and ability to handle that transition over some other guys.

"He knew what to expect, because his brother's here, been here for four years."

As a Volunteer, Tennys typically assumes the number four position in singles, while splitting doubles time with Matteo Fago and Edward Jones.

Watching their sons play has prompted David and Lia to make the journey from Gallatin to road and home matches, with many more trips sure to come.

"It's called double-trouble," Lia says with a laugh. "My husband and I went to the National Indoor (Championships) in Virginia to go and support the team. In the finals, Davey played singles at number six, and Tennys played singles at number four, one court apart. Actually, because one distracts me from the other and vice versa, it was much easier than just watching one of them. And typically when one is doing badly, the other is actually doing well, so it keeps me level.

"It's really wonderful, a parent can't ask for more."

Davey and Tennys Sandgren are the first brothers to play at Tennessee since Nashville twins Bill and Dan McGugin competed for the Vols in 1997.

As the remaining schedule shrinks, the Sandgren family is caught counting down the days on an unforgettable season.

Back home in Gallatin, the Sandgren family court rests alone, separated from its masters whose display of skills were once so fondly crafted on its smooth surface.

"I'll love looking back on this," Davey said. "Win or lose this is still a great team. It will always be a team I love; they're all like brothers to me, except he is my brother. We're all pretty close family."

In that case, fortunately for Tennys, his brother's departure from Knoxville will only allow him more time to play amongst his other family members. His teammates.


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