Sam Querrey in action during the Davis Cup Semifinals.
© Ron Angle
By Erin Bruehl, USTA.com
Sam Querrey extended to hit a serve during the Queen’s Club tournament last year and felt a horrible pinch in his right elbow.
It was the same arm that produces his powerful serve and forehand, the keys to a game that had been on the rise over the last few years and that helped him reach a career-high of No. 17 a few months earlier.
And it was the same arm he injured in a fluke accident after the US Open in Bangkok in 2009, when a glass table he was sitting on collapsed, cutting into the skin and muscle of his right forearm. Querrey narrowly avoided damaging the nerves and completely tearing the muscle, which could have ended his tennis career.
This time, the pain was from wear and tear on the elbow, with some bone chunks breaking off. And on that one serve on that day at Queen’s, Querrey finally pushed the elbow to the breaking point, an injury that would force him off the court for that match and keep him off the court for months to come.
"I probably wasn’t taking good care of it and a bone broke off," he said. "The doctors said the elbow [injury] was coming but they thought on that one motion, a bigger bone chunk might have broken off and I felt the pain."
He had surgery on the elbow, removing the bone chunks and cleaning out the joint, including cartilage, and having everything scraped down. Three months later he was back competing, though at very different venues. During his period of inactivity, Querrey missed two Grand Slams and his world ranking dropped to No. 125. That forced him to return to the smaller tournaments and purses of the USTA Pro Circuit, instead of right back to the ATP World Tour.
But now, more than a year later, Querrey is back to No. 26 in the world, back to his usual life and most importantly, back to feeling in top condition. It was not easy or quick, but Querrey, 24, is happy he got there.
"I am feeling 100 percent. I am feeling great," Querrey said during the Davis Cup Semifinals in Spain, where he competed at No. 2 singles. "After I had surgery, about three months later I was able to play again. It took another six months until I started to feel confident again. It was about a nine-month period until when I had the surgery until I felt like I was back to where I was before surgery. It took a while, regaining confidence, just feeling good, timing."
Post-surgery in 2011, Querrey, a California native, was rehabbing every day at the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles, trying to regain his strength. He had a strength and conditioning coach living with him for several weeks, working on exercises—including a lot of running—that didn’t require use of his right arm. Being home while Wimbledon and the Emirates Airline US Open Series were going on was hard, although Querrey allows that it was nice to have a break at the same time.
"I was enjoying the summer, hanging out with my friends, doing something I didn’t get to do too often, going to the beach a lot," he said. "That part was nice but it was tough just sitting at home watching John [Isner], Andy [Roddick], Mardy [Fish] and James [Blake] playing every week when I wanted to be out there. But I got to hang out at home with my friends and it was a little out of my control. That made me feel a little better, that there was nothing I could really do."
He returned to competition in September of last year. Still, it was difficult for Querrey to return to his pre-ATP life, before he starting moving up the rankings, all while knowing that he was playing Challengers because his ranking dipped due to inactivity, not because his game was no longer among the best in the world. So instead of playing the main draw at Masters Series events like Paris and Shanghai, Querrey played in Tulsa, Sacramento and Tiburon Calif., eventually earning the ranking points and confidence he needed to return to the tour.
Querrey’s efforts were rewarded with a return to the Top 100, which guaranteed direct entry into the 2012 Australian Open, where he lost in the second round. From there he played mostly tour events through the beginning of the new year, although not yet back to full strength.
A big moment in returning to the top for Querrey was winning the Sarasota Challenger in April, which he said was one of the most difficult things for him to do. He has not played a circuit-level tournament since.
"It was so tough," he said of returning to playing Challengers. "I won Sarasota, [which] was much harder than winning Los Angeles, Queen’s or Memphis (all ATP titles he won in his career). You feel like you don’t belong there.
"I was mad at myself. If I won a close set and I was still mad," he added." I was frustrated with myself and getting through some of those and winning the matches was tough, but it felt good afterwards. When I was done, it was a sigh of relief. I was done with that little step, now it was time to move on back to the big events."
The real turning point came at Queen’s of all places. A year removed from the injury, Querrey finally felt like himself again. He reached the semifinals there to push his ranking back inside the Top 70, and his summer took off from there, with a victory at the Farmers Classic in Los Angeles for his seventh career title and semifinal showings in Washington, D.C. and Winston-Salem, N.C. By the time the US Open started, Querrey was seeded and back inside the Top 30.
"It was my first semifinals in a tour event in a year and a half," he said of his performance at Queen’s. "I felt like after that I was kind of back, that is where it kind of all started [for this summer]. I made the semis there, third round at Wimbledon, I had a great summer. After a while I knew I was going to be seeded at the US Open, so then I just felt like I was back, I was in the groove and life was good again."
For much of his success, Querrey credits trainer Casey Cordial, whose brothers Clint and Rory Cordial work with Isner and Blake, respectively, and to whom Querrey credits for making not just his elbow, but his entire body feel great—and better every day.
"He has been with me since Queen’s this year, working with me every day so my body feels 100 percent every time I go out on the court," Querrey said. "I have played straight basically for 15 weeks in a row and a lot of that is because he makes me feel great every day, works on my elbow, whatever I need help with, so that has been key."
U.S. Davis Cup Captain Jim Courier invited Querrey to be part of the team for its semifinal showdown with Spain in Gijon, Spain in September. It was Querrey’s first Davis Cup appearance since the 2010 World Group Playoffs and he felt honored to receive the invitation, seeing it as a nice reward after working hard all summer.
He has a few tournaments left in 2012, including the China Open where he reached the quarterfinals, and would like to finish the year ranked inside the Top 20. He has few rankings points to defend this fall and into the spring next year, so if it doesn’t happen to end this year, there’s every reason to believe it will in early 2013.
"I want to end the year in the Top 20, that was my goal coming in," Querrey said. "I am [ranked No.] 26 now, so a couple good results and I could be right there. I have four tournaments after this to do so hopefully I can get it done. If not, it is not a big deal, I did awful the first half of this year so starting next year I have a clean slate going into it, so hopefully I can make another run."