Australian Open: Querrey d. Gulbis

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With John Isner racking up the miles and younger compatriots distant in the rear-view mirror, can Sam Querrey reassert himself as the top American man in 2014? It’s something to consider after the past 24 hours, which saw Isner retire with an ankle injury and Querrey handle combustible No. 23 seed Ernests Gulbis with ease, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4.

It was three years ago, shortly after this very tournament, that Querrey reached a career-high ranking of No. 17. That achievement followed a year in which the Californian won four titles on three different surfaces—including a final-round win over Andy Murray in Los Angeles. His meat-and-potatoes game looked like a perfectly prepared filet mignon, as Querrey controlled matches with his serve and finished points with his forehand. It took Stanislas Wawrinka five tough sets to prevent Querrey from reaching his first major quarterfinal at the 2010 U.S. Open.

But Querrey is still looking for that maiden voyage to the elite eight at a Slam, with injuries and inconsistent play having held the 26-year-old back from greater glory. It was also revealed that Querrey broke up with his fiance last year, which surely contributed to some of his struggles. And after going 1-2 in Australian Open tune-up tournaments, Melbourne didn’t appear promising as a site for a turnaround.

But through two rounds, Querrey has managed to give us and himself something positive to talk about. His win over Gulbis was vintage, power tennis, making break-of-serve leads hold up with ruthless yet controlled aggression. After a most efficient first set in which Querrey won all 14 of his first-serve points, it was no wonder that Gulbis decided to decimate his racquet once he surrendered a break in the second set. That tirade occurred after Gulbis had taken a lead of his own at 3-2; it was the only break point he’d convert all day.

Querrey would soon take his own lead in the second set, which he’d win after a dominant four-game run. That strong stretch was defined by Gulbis errors—he struck 41 overall, many just a few shots into rallies—and largely unopposed Querrey service games. It was a good representation of the match overall, in which Querrey hit 19 aces and won 45 of 51 first serves. With little margin for error, Gulbis did exactly the opposite of what was needed to succeed.

Give Gulbis high marks, however, for the final game, where he earned two of his three total break points. Of course, he gave away both opportunities with backhand errors. But it was one of the few instances of resistance from Gulbis, who was simply following Querrey’s lead. The big man repeatedly tested Gulbis while returning and won the majority of extended rallies—not exactly the qualities that make Querrey a dangerous player. When you combine those what what does make him a threat, you get today’s one-sided performance, and perhaps hope for tomorrow’s revival.

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