Sam Querrey, who took over as the No. 1 ranked American when he beat Australia’s Marinko Matosevic 7-6 (5), 6-7 (7), 7-5 here Tuesday in the third round of BNP Paribas Open, would have taken up the game earlier if he had not found it so daunting.
“I did play tennis when I was 8, but I had more interest in baseball and soccer and things like that,” said the 6-foot-6 giant, who was born in San Francisco.
“I think they’re just easier to play when you are younger. Tennis now has those soft trainer balls and a smaller net, so if I had had those, maybe I would have been more into tennis, because I would have been a little better.”
Luckily for the American game, Querrey did start to play tennis more seriously, and has now overtaken John Isner, who lost in the first round here and slipped out of the top 20.
Querrey will move up sufficiently in the ATP rankings to ensure that the U.S. does have at least one player in the world’s top 20.
“It means a lot,” Querrey said when asked about his new, elevated status.
“It’s a great feeling. I feel I’ve worked hard for it. Everyone seems like they’ve had their shot — Andy (Roddick), Mardy (Fish), James (Blake) and John (Isner), so I feel like it’s my turn now. But some of those guys are right on my heels, so hopefully we can all keep pushing each other and all keep moving up the rankings.”
Querrey said it wouldn’t make too much difference as to how he is perceived.
“I think if you are in the world’s top 10, I think you’re seen a little differently,” he said. "This is a world wide sport.”
Querrey had to fight hard against the powerful Matosevic, who pummels the ball from both flanks.
“Yeah, it was tough,” Querrey said. “Last couple of weeks, those are the matches that I lost, so it feels great to get through.”
Tough would be one way of describing his next assignment, which will see him line up against the man who is the world No. 1 — Novak Djokovic. Yet in a way, this might be the right time for Querrey to play the Serb.
For one thing, he defeated Djokovic the last time they met, at the Paris Indoors in October, which was the last time Novak lost a match. And, of course, there will be the crowd factor.
But most important, Djokovic, by his standards, is not firing on all cylinders.
The little Italian Fabio Fognini took a set off him the in the previous round, and Tuesday, the young Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov should have won the first set against a strangely passive Djokovic. But, alarmingly for his sake, Dimitrov managed to produce no less than four double faults when he served for the set.
“That’s very unusual in men’s tennis nowadays,” said Djokovic, who won 7-6 (4), 6-1.
“I really played poorly in the first set in my opinion. From my standard, I haven’t brought the game to the level I want. I just tried to stay positive and calm and hang in there.”
It was a frustrating day for Mardy Fish, too, although more so because he blew a 4-0 second set lead against the No. 8 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and went down 7-6, 7-6, losing the second breaker without winning a point.
“I can’t remember losing a set from 4-0,” said an obviously disappointed Fish. “But for a first tournament back after such a long absence, I have to look at the positives. I won a match and I’m feeling fine.”
Later, on a warm evening, Andy Murray, the reigning U.S. Open champion who has never won the title at Indian Wells, had to work harder than the score suggests to beat Yen-Hsun Lu from Taipei 6-3, 6-2.
Lu, who had beaten Murray at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, engaged the Scot in long baseline rallies but could never force a breakthrough.