Querrey readies for the big time
T.O. prodigy's pick: USC or pro stardom
BY ERIK BOAL, Special to the Daily News
He's worked out on clay courts in Texas with Andy Roddick, won a set against James Blake at the Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells and advanced to the finals of two events at the 106th annual Ojai Valley Tennis Tournament.
And that's just in the past two months.
Less than six weeks from his graduation at Thousand Oaks High, Sam Querrey has little in common with most 18-year-olds preparing to head off to college. With a No. 358 world ranking, he might not attend college at all.
Querrey has grown accustomed to what life might be like if he chooses to pass on USC and join the professional ranks.
He's competed in Dallas, Honolulu, Las Vegas, Miami and New York, played in the junior French Open, U.S. Open and Wimbledon, and signed more autographs than most professional athletes do in a season.
"I almost feel like I've already graduated," Querrey said.
To his friends at Thousand Oaks, he's still "Sam," the guy who has made the rapid ascent from a round-of-16 loss in the CIF competition at Ojai in 2003 to winning the high school title as a sophomore to competing in the men's open final Sunday.
To the hordes of fans packing the bleachers around the stadium court at the Ojai Valley Inn or Libbey Park, he's "Sammy," a local hero whose popularity has people arriving two hours early to secure seats to watch him compete against grown men.
And to many tennis experts, he's the 6-foot-6, 200-pound phenom with the booming first serve, explosive forehand and precision drop shots, who has the potential to become the future of American men's tennis.
"He's the young guy, and he has all the future, and the people want to feel like they're a part of that," said Zbynek Mlynarik, 29, a former ATP player and Chatsworth resident who defeated Querrey 6-3, 1-6, 6-1 in Sunday's men's singles final at Ojai. "If he keeps going in the same direction, and he keeps working hard, he has the potential to go farther up (in the rankings).
"He has a big game, but he still has a lot he can develop. He still has a lot to get better in, which is good."
Noah Newman, 28, a UCLA standout in the late 1990s, lost to Querrey 6-2, 6-4 in Saturday's semifinals. Following the match, Newman showered the former junior Davis Cup player with compliments, saying his combination of size and skill, agility and court coverage could one day lead to Grand Slam wins.
Querrey was a practice partner for the U.S. Davis Cup team for a qualifier last year in Belgium, and he has recorded victories over Americans Amer Delic and Bobby Reynolds and Spain's Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, all in the world top 180. He's pushed Americans Jeff Morrison, Alex Bogomolov Jr., Vince Spadea and Blake - all in the top 170 - to three sets.
"When you practice with guys like Roddick and Blake, that's the best kind of practice you can get," said Querrey, who has clay-court challenger events the next two weeks in Tunica, Miss., and Forest Hills, N.Y. "I don't think a lot of guys have been given the same opportunities as I have. I consider myself very fortunate. ...
"When you're playing challengers in Mobile (Ala.), it's probably like playing Single-A or Double-A baseball. But when you're playing at the NASDAQ (Open) or the U.S. Open, there's nothing better. You get to the point where you want to do that full-time. That's my motivation."
To ascend among the world's elite, Querrey knows he has to be able to produce more consistent results, especially in three-set matches. He lost in the first round at a challenger event in Valencia two weeks before reaching the final at Ojai
"(Before Ojai) the last 10 tournaments I played, I've had nothing to lose because I was the underdog," said Querrey, who received wild-card entries into three ATP events this year and reached the second round at Indian Wells. "But sometimes it's good to have the pressure to perform and to do well. Everyone needs that."
Querrey knows that the pressure will mount the next three weeks, before he decides if he'll attend USC or turn pro.
"I just want to keep a calm head," Querrey said. "Things have been going great and I just want to keep it rolling."