Sam Querrey wants to stand tall, as tall as world No. 6 Argentine Juan Martin del Potro did last year when he won four straight summer titles.
Interestingly, the two are the same height, 6-foot-6, and both quite young: Querrey is 22 and Del Potro is 20.
But while Del Porto owns five career titles and pushed Roger Federer to five sets in the semifinals of the French Open, Querrey is title-less this year and has fallen short at the majors, losing to Philipp Kohlschreiber in the first round of the Australian Open, to teenager Ernests Gulbis in the opening round at Roland Garros and to Marin Cilic in a thrilling five-set third-round affair at Wimbledon. The Southern Californian has also taken tight 2009 losses to Andy Roddick, James Blake, Stan Wawrinka and Feliciano Lopez.
Last week at Newport, Querrey reached his second final of the year, falling to fellow American Rajeev Ram. In his opening tournament of the year in Auckland, he went down to Del Potro. He’s come close to significant success, but his 2009 results place him where he should be at this point: ranked No. 37, on the cusp of an excellent career, but still staring up at the big boys.
“I’m hoping to break through this summer,” Querrey told FOXSports.com from Indianapolis, where he is the third seed. “I’d love to be seeded at the U.S. Open, and I’d like to end the year in the top 20. It’s realistic. I’ve got the game and beaten top 20 guys multiple times and I feel I’m right there. I’d like to make a little push like Del Potro did last summer, to win four tournaments in a row and reach the quarters of the U.S. Open. That’s stetting the bar a little high, but I’d love to make a jump.”
The last time that an American male rose up and seized control of the U.S. Open Series tournaments was 2003, the year that Roddick broke out as an elite player by taking the Canadian Open, Cincinnati and grabbing his sole Slam title at the U.S. Open.
Since then, only the now retired Andre Agassi and Roddick managed to win premier summer tournaments, when Agassi won in Cincinnati in 2004 and Roddick won the same event in 2006.
The sputtering Blake has never won a Masters Series event, nor have the other notable American members of his generation — the up-and-down Mardy Fish or the declining Robby Ginepri. It’s improbable that any of them will do so this summer, not with the world’s top four of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic touching down in North America for the Canadian Open, August 10-16, and not with Roddick having sent out a stern message by pushing Federer as hard as he ever has in the Wimbledon final.
The fifth-ranked Roddick, who is recovering from a hip injury and also taking time off to soothe the emotional wounds he received in his dramatic five-set loss to Federer, pulled out of Indianapolis and isn’t scheduled to play until Washington, D.C. in two weeks time.
The Wimbledon final was the first time that Roddick showed technically that he could hang with the great Swiss, arguably outplaying him from the baseline. If Roddick can pick himself back up mentally again, he’ll have to like his chances should the two face off on a quicker U.S. Open court.
“I didn’t have much to show for it, but I felt mentally I was a little better, but probably I trusted myself a little more during the final,” said Roddick, who is 2-19 against Federer. “I’m going to try and keep doing that. I’m on the right path and trying to see it through.”
Clearly, Roddick and U.S. tennis needs one of its younger males to step up and become a consistent second-week threat at the Slams. Outside of Querrey, no young U.S. pro has showed that capability, which leaves it to the Santa Monica resident to improve on his base — a huge serve and forehand — and join the conversation.
“I want to be that guy who’s in the same sentence as Roddick, Blake and Fish, who can back them up and make a run at the Open,” said Querrey. “Each week I’ve felt better and better, even when I was losing in the first round back to back. I’m working on my backhand and returns. I’m putting in a lot of time off court and doing a lot of running, and that’s paying off. I feel really fit, fast and strong, and that’s important knowing that fitness (concerns) won’t play a part in a match at all.”
Querrey had better be in tip-top shape, as he’s entered in every U.S. Open Series tournament from this week on — Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Washington, Canada, Cincinnati and New Haven. This week in Indianapolis, he’s the main American drawing card. The tournament flew in seven of his friends, called the “Samurais” to cheer him on and create some noise.
Without question, if he’s to become an elite player and really impress his closest friends, Querrey has to improve his net game, as he’ll never be quick enough to out-leg many of his peers from the backcourt. He also has to be more courageous.
“The mental part of it, early in the year, on big points, I was getting a little nervous and waiting for the opponent to miss rather than taking a chance on a return, trying to hit a winner or get to the net and show no fear out there,” he said. “You can’t just bunt the ball in and hope the other guy misses if you want to get to the next level. You have to play to win.”
Querrey can learn a lot from Roddick, who despite not being the fastest or talented man on tour, has won dozens of matches simply by showing his opponents that he loves the battle and he’s willing to do anything to win.
“He’s got the willingness and drive and he’s not afraid to go out there and have 20-30 ball rallies every point,” said Querrey. “He’ll win ugly. If something is not working for him, he can kind of junk his way through matches, serve big serves and make the guy hit an extra ball. I’ve never seen him not go out there and fight every point.”
Querrey would like to take much the same attitude on court. If he does, he might realize his ambition, which is to make a major splash against the world’s best in Canada, Cincinnati and New York.
“You need to treat Federer the same as a qualifier in the first round and if you do that, you’ll be more successful,” he said. “I need to make a push in those big tournaments. Those are the ones I want to peak in.”