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Not Just Serena: Another hard-hitting American, Sam Querrey, says goodbye to the game at the US Open
We caught up with the grass-court giant-slayer in the concrete jungle, and look back at an underrated career.
Published Sep 01, 2022
No Limit NYC: Prakash Amritraj sits down with Sam Querrey for tacos—and to talk about forthcoming retirement.
NEW YORK—Long before tennis as we know it ever existed, a philosopher observed that “man is born free—but everywhere he is in chains.” These words have often been a fitting way to describe the challenge a tennis player faces when it comes to competing effectively.
Then there’s Sam Querrey, a man whose naturally tranquil demeanor has usually made it easy for him to swing freely and feel calm in the heat of battle. Querrey’s unchained melody surfaced most whenever he struck his powerful serve and sharp forehand, the two cornerstone assets that helped him earn ten ATP singles titles and attain a career-high ranking of No. 11 in the world in 2018.
Now 34 years old and ranked 287, Querrey has announced his retirement. Speaking with Tennis Channel’s Prakash Amritraj in New York City, Querrey said, “I kind of went back and forth for a few months—maybe I’ll retire at the Open, maybe not, maybe try to go one more run. It kind of clicked, like, just know what, I’ve had enough, I guess. I want to play one more Open and then move to the next phase of my life.” (For more with Sam and Prakash, watch the video above.)
Like many pros, Querrey savored the chance to end his career on home soil grounds.
“This one feels like the right one just because it's the Grand Slam in America . . . This one feels like the right place,” Querrey recently told USOpen.org. “I feel like my game isn’t what it used to be, but that happens to everyone with age—besides Rafa, Novak and Roger, it seems like.”
Most notably, Querrey is eager to spend more time with his family: wife Abby and two young boys, Ford and Owen.
“I have two little kids now; as you know, I’ve been traveling non-stop for 20 years,” Querrey told Amritraj. “I’m excited to get into a little more of a routine at home.”
Granted a wild card into the singles, Querrey on Tuesday played on Court 7 and lost in the first round to 73rd-ranked Ilya Ivashka, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (6), 6-3. The next evening, on Court 10, Querrey and fellow American Steve Johnson were beaten in their opening doubles match by the second-seeded team of Neil Skupski and Wesley Koolhof, 6-4, 7-6 (5).
As I watched Querrey in action one last time Wednesday night—per usual, there were plenty of smooth, relaxed swings—it was clear he was quite comfortable with his decision to drop the curtain on a pro career that began in 2006. But then again, self-knowledge and ease of manner have always been Querrey trademarks. As a teen, he’d had the choice of a USC scholarship or turning pro. This was a decision Querrey wrestled with for months.
But time spent practicing with America’s Davis Cup team—an occasion capped off by Querrey sending a handwritten thank you note to captain Patrick McEnroe—was just one of many factors that convinced Querrey he could make a go at big-time tennis.
In March 2008, Querrey won his first singles title. It happened in Las Vegas, at an ATP stop then known as the Tennis Channel Open, where Querrey rallied to beat Kevin Anderson in the final, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. In a nice twist, Querrey had lived in Las Vegas for a time as a child before relocating to Thousand Oaks, Calif., a Los Angeles suburb.
I happened to be in Las Vegas that week, witness to the emergence of Querrey and the possibility of him becoming America’s next great player. Recall that this was during the glory years of Andy Roddick, who’d finished 2003 ranked No. 1 in the world and for much of his career was America’s preeminent top man. Right from the start of Querrey’s career, Roddick had deep respect for him. “He’s willing to put in what it takes,” Roddick told me in 2007.
Proof of both diligence and longevity was that Querrey’s finest moments came a good ten years later, well after he’d established himself as a Top 50 mainstay. No tournament more than Wimbledon better fit Querrey’s playing style, with the grass amplifying Sam’s already lethal serve and forehand. In 2016, when Novak Djokovic was both defending champion and No. 1, Querrey beat him there in the third round, 7-6 (6), 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (5). Querrey went on to reach the quarterfinals at the All England Club for the first time.
A year later came an even better result at SW19. In the third round, Querrey squeaked past 10th-ranked Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 7-5 in the fifth. Next came another five-set victory, this one over Anderson. And then, in the quarters, Querrey for the second year in a row took down the title holder who was also ranked No. 1. In this case, it was Andy Murray, Querrey rallying to win, 3-6, 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-1, 6-1. Querrey had become the first American man in eight years to reach the semis of a major.
Two years later, he got to the Wimbledon quarters again, a run highlighted by an opening round win over world No. 4 Dominic Thiem. Querrey’s Grand Slam singles resume also includes a quarterfinal appearance at the US Open, in 2017.
As you might expect from an American who watches all the other major sports and whose father almost signed a major league baseball contract, Querrey also enjoyed team situations. He won five ATP doubles titles. As recently as last year, Querrey and Johnson reached the semifinals of the US Open. And in Davis Cup, Querrey played 21 matches, going 10-9 in singles and 2-0 in doubles.
Another veteran American, Todd Martin, once observed that a tennis player’s career is akin to renting a car. When it’s time to return the vehicle, Martin noted, you want to bring it in on empty, knowing you’ve used every possible drop of gas. Though it was impossible to tell if someone as low-key as Querrey was ever running on fumes, certainly he’s had one fine ride.