Tennys Sandgren pulled off the biggest victory of his pro tennis career Tuesday night — with some help from his friends.
Sandgren, who played two seasons for Tennessee (2010-11), defeated No. 1 seed and defending champion Jesse Levine 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-3 in the first round of the $50,000 Knoxville Challenger at the Goodfriend Tennis Center.
Several current and former UT players were at courtside cheering for Sandgren, along with fans in the stands.
"It's a lot easier to get down on yourself when you don't have people around pulling for you, and those guys helped me out a lot," Sandgren said. "You play a lot through the year and don't have a big support system on the road, and then I come home here and I've got a lot of people behind me. It helps out a ton."
Among the former Vols rooting for Sandgren was his former UT teammate and doubles partner, Rhyne Williams, whose first-round match scheduled for Tuesday night was delayed when his opponent, Michael McClune, withdrew due to illness.
Williams will play No. 1-seeded qualifier Austin Krajicek in a feature match tonight at 7.
Sandgren, meanwhile, will get a day's rest before facing the winner of today's match between Adrien Bossel of Switzerland and Jarryd Chaplin, a current UT player who got a wild card into the main draw.
"I definitely have a good opportunity," Sandgren said. "Every time you advance and you get to play another match, it's a good opportunity."
Sandgren, ranked No. 256 in the world, called his victory over No. 85 Levine the best of his career rankings-wise. Levine has won two Challenger events and reached three other finals in the last four months.
"He's a heck of a player," Sandgren said. "I feel like I played one of the best matches I've played to take him down."
Levine beat Sandgren in straight sets in a Futures event in Sept. of 2011.
"I didn't have the game to hang with him at the time," Sandgren said, "but I feel like I've gotten a lot better in a year to where I'm able to put myself in position to win a match like this."
In another first-round upset Tuesday night, top-seeded J.P. Smith and John Peers lost to Alex Kuznetsov and Mischa Zverev 6-3, 6-0. Smith was a four-year All-American at UT (2008-11).
"They played really well," Smith said. "We could have done a few things better, but they returned really well. I don't think they missed a return the whole match."
Smith plays Bradley Klahn tonight at 6 in the first round of singles. "Hopefully I can put a better performance in," Smith said.