Re: Next Move to Top 20,
No questions over Querrey
By STEVE KILGALLON - Sunday Star Times | Sunday, 16 December 2007
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The Americans are good at identifying great white hopes in sport. In tennis, they think it might come in the unassuming yet hulking form of Sam Querrey, a 1.98m player with a thumping serve.
With only seven top-100 players, there's a touch of desperation in that search for the next marketable male tennis star in the US, and Querrey, seeded 22nd for his first visit to the Heineken Open in Auckland next month, had a "lucrative" deal with adidas before even turning professional.
In the two years since, the 20-year-old has climbed more than 600 places to 63 in the ATP rankings. Of his compatriots only Andy Roddick (six), James Blake (13) and Mardy Fish (39) are higher-placed.
Blake, his first top-10 victim in July this year, observed his opponent had "just been having fun". It's the unique selling point of a player who didn't focus on tennis until the relatively late age of 16 and hasn't contemplated burnout syndrome.
"You know, a big part of it is to go out there, give it a great effort, and have fun, and most of the time I am having fun," he told the Star-Times from his home in Thousand Oaks, California. "I definitely don't [get stressed]. Don't get me wrong, I take it very seriously and I think I come off a little more down to earth and lackadaisical than I really am."
He confesses he's "slowly" becoming like other professionals.
"When I first started I was the new guy out there, having fun and didn't care, but now it's my career, I am starting to take it a little more seriously, day by day becoming a bit more professional."
That more sober approach is the product of a year in which Querrey's rapid climb finally began to level out. He was the first to win a Challenger event on debut, picked up two more in his first season, leapt from 616 to 66 in 13 months. But this year he dipped 16 places after losing seven straight matches, including round one defeats at Wimbledon and the French Open.
It taught him a lesson.
"I had been a little bit complacent about where I was. I stepped back and realised I had to work hard to make that next step," he says. "There is not a big difference in the guys ranked above 100. The top 10 are amazing, but the guys at 10 to 100 are also really great players and there is not a huge difference there."
Following that realisation came the most significant match of his short career, beating Blake in the quarterfinal of the Indianapolis Classic, where Querrey thumped 10 aces in succession, 34 in total.
"I didn't feel any pressure," he says. "And that was a big part of the reason why I won. There was rarely a time when I felt worried."
His dad had been a decent baseballer who turned down a professional contract to study, and motivated partly by that, Querrey agonised over a scholarship to the University of Southern California before turning pro at 18.
"I went back and forth on that decision for about 18 months [but I] haven't looked back since."
The flattening of the rankings curve means Querrey delivers understated ambitions for a year that begins at Stanley Street: he'd like to be top 30, win one ATP event, be more consistent. He has worked with a fitness trainer during a six-week off-season, and says: "I feel I am right there, it's just one extra step away."
Many are waiting to see if he accomplishes that step, but the "great hope" talk is lightly dealt with. Like an all-American kid straight from a Wolfe novel, Querrey says: "It doesn't bother me. I am humbled that people think of me that way. I'm just working hard, doing the best I can and whatever happens, happens. I don't feel any pressure."
When we finish talking, he's off to hit some balls with friend Michael McClune, a 17-year-old novice professional. There are the last vestiges of the wide-eyed enthusiast: a key reason why he wants to come here is to see "some great lodge my friends told me about".