“I feel a lot of urgency. I feel like it’s, you know, kinda the last hurrah here and next week to put together some results … Every match is a big match for me right now and I’ll take every one I can get.”—Sam Querrey, after he battled through five match points to beat Jarkko Nieminen in Winston-Salem yesterday, 4-6, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (10).
Querrey may be struggling, but he knows just what’s on the line as the U.S. Open—and all those uncomfortable questions about the fate of American tennis—begin to loom large on the horizon. So he’s been trying to collect wins like a college kid cramming for an exam after a summer that can only be called frustrating.
Querrey hit a career-high ranking of No. 17 at the end of January 2011 but, partly because of injuries, he’s been up and down ever since. He entered Winston-Salem struggling to keep his record above the respectability level of .500. He was 19-17 in 2013 with no titles, but now you can add two wins to that tally. Before surviving Nieminen, he beat Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in three sets in the second round (after getting a free pass via a first-round bye).
But on the whole, this summer has been a dismal one for Querrey, who was actually the top-ranked American through the first half of this year. Before this week, he had not won two matches in a row since, ironically, the French Open.
On home soil—and hard courts—after Wimbledon, where Querrey might have been expected to do well, he lost in the first round of Newport to world No. 120 Tim Smyczek. Then he barely survived Denis Istomin in Washington in a 7-6 (9) in-the-third dogfight, but in his next match bowed out meekly to Grigor Dimitrov. Then he bombed in the first round of Cincinnati to another player who’s been struggling, Janko Tipsarevic.
The “urgency” Querrey feels was handled in a less than urgent way in his match with Nieminen on Tuesday, a contest that lasted two hours and 10 minutes in the soggy humidity and stifling heat of North Carolina. Querrey rallied from a 6-3 deficit in the third-set tiebreaker, and won it 12-10. He said, “This is the first time in a long while I can remember squeezing out a long tough one, saving match points, getting through when it wasn’t pretty at times. So it feels good.”
Ironically, Querrey is stirring to life—if that’s what this is—at just about the same time as his American buddy, John Isner. It reminds us that it wasn’t so long ago that Isner and Querrey were seen as the future of the U.S. game, a pair of youngsters as promising as they were towering, and preparing to take over the mantle of leadership from Andy Roddick, James Blake, and Mardy Fish. Querrey and Isner even played a final against each other, on red clay of all surfaces, three years ago in Belgrade.
Querrey and Isner met three times in that year of joint emergence, but they haven’t faced off since. Both have struggled some, but Isner suddenly is having a terrific summer. He’s back up to No. 14, just five ticks from his career high.
Querrey, who plays Richard Berankis today, may not match his career-high ranking by week’s end, but a good run at Flushing Meadows might get him closer. Can Isner and Querrey inspire each other once again, this time in a higher stakes game at the U.S. Open? That’s one of the more interesting questions emerging for American fans as the national championships approaches.