For the last six months Tennys Sandgren has carried a special Johnny Cash t-shirt in his bag.
A Tennessee native, the 27-year-old Sandgren is immensely proud of his city, where the iconic singer-songwriter spent much of his life.
Sandgren promised himself he would wear it if he ever won an ATP title, and yesterday that dream came true.
After seven years as a professional, the world No 61 had his breakthrough in Auckland, trumping hometown favourite Cameron Norrie 6-4 6-2 in the ASB Classic final.
A jubilant Sandgren celebrated after match point, then went to his bag to retrieve the prized black t-shirt.
"[I'm] just repping Tennessee," explained Sandgren. "He lived in Gallatin, when I was born and raised. I got it in the Johnny Cash museum in Nashville, where I am from. I thought that would be a cool shirt to rep if I could win it. If I was the [runner-up] I had a white shirt, if I won I was like 'I'll wear the shirt that I want to wear'."
Sandgren's lucky memento almost didn't make the trip down under, as he misplaced it during the off season.
"I briefly lost it for a while — I didn't know where it was then I found it before this trip," said Sandgren. "I was like 'yeah I found it and if everything goes well I can wear it'. It's cool, a little fun...got to find a little motivating factor in there."
Considering what he has shown in Auckland this week, it surely won't be the last time that the face of Johnny Cash is seen at a tournament prize giving around the world. Sandgren arrived here as an after thought — the world No 63 was the last direct entry in the main draw and overshadowed by plenty of bigger names — but he was on song all week.
He didn't drop a set throughout the tournament, particularly impressive in a second round demolition of world No18 Marco Cecchinato and a one sided win over former Auckland champion Philipp Kohlschreiber in the semi final.
"That's weird," said Sandgren of his unbroken run. "Tennis doesn't normally work that way. All the risks I have been taking on the court, it all kind of worked out for me."
Despite his long wait for a ATP trophy, Sandgren insisted it wasn't on his mind as he made his way through the field.
"I've been working hard to try and accomplish that goal but to actually do it, to actually realise that milestone is a big deal for me," said Sandgren. "[But] I didn't think about that until today honestly. Even being in the quarter finals, every match my opponent has been really good. So I have been taking it one match at the time."
Sandgren was a class above in the final, while Norrie struggled to match the levels he had reached earlier in the week.
World No 90 Norrie had dominated their previous encounters – with a 4-2 advantage in head to head matches – but that never looked likely yesterday.
The former Kiwi, who plays under the British flag, made an uncertain start. After only dropping serve twice in the whole week — and not at all until the semi-final — the 23-year-old was broken in his first service game.
He also struggled in the next one, fending off a couple of break opportunities, and that unfortunately set the tone for the match.
Norrie, who had been so precise throughout the week, couldn't find his range and made plenty of unforced errors in his first ATP decider. There were moments of brilliance, but not quite enough.
"He was solid thoroughout, not making many errors and I over pressed a little bit," reflected Norrie. "He was moving unbelievably this week and today, and he served great. I was doing a couple of things well here and there, but couldn't really bring it all together. It was too good from him today — I'm happy for him."