Sam Querrey takes on Marin Cilic in the third round.
© Clive Rose/Getty Images
By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com
WIMBLEDON -- Sam Querrey may appear on the outside to be lackadaisical, but guys who come back from two significant injuries and then face down perhaps the tour's most promising youngster in Milos Raonic, 6-7 (3), 7-6 (7), 7-6 (8), 6-4, in the second round of Wimbledon have to have some fire burning inside.
The tall 24-year-old has a quiet, unassuming disposition, but he got loud after his victory, and it’s no wonder, given that his road to becoming an elite player has been derailed on a couple of occasions.
"Usually I'm pretty calm and collected after a win or loss, but I kind of let it out there a little bit at the end. It just felt good," said Querrey, who reached a career-high ranking of No. 17 at the start of 2011. "I was out for a while, and I feel like I'm coming back. Ranking is moving up. It's just nice to be in the third round of a Slam again. This is definitely my biggest win in a long time. It was a big moment, a big court, and it feels great."
A California native who grew up in Las Vegas, Querrey looked like he was well on his way to a top-10 career in the summer of 2009, when he reached three straight finals at Newport, Indianapolis and Los Angeles, where he won the title. He then reached another final in New Haven, but a little more than a month later in Bangkok before his first match, he sat down on a glass table to put on his shoes, and it broke. He ended up with a seven-centimeter slash to his right arm that went right into his muscle and tendons. It could have been career ending.
"I was worried I may never be able to have full control of my right arm again," he said.
He came back, won a career-high four titles on three different surfaces in 2010 and ended the year in the top 20 for the first time. But last July at the Wimbledon warm-up tournament in Queens, he felt a sharp pain in his right [playing] elbow and was forced to pull out. He underwent elbow surgery and was unable to come back for three months, when he had to start grinding on the Challenger circuit again to get his ranking back up. He was a little overly ambitious about his immediate prospects.
"When I got injured and missed Wimbledon through the US Open, I thought I was just going to come back and be right back where I left off, playing-wise," he said. "You know, go deep in a couple tournaments, and my ranking will move back quickly. It's just not the case, as I think most people would learn with an injury. I feel like I'm playing well now. Hopefully after the summer, my ranking can be back in the top 20. It can take a year or even longer for people to get back to where they are. [Maria] Sharapova is somewhat of an example. She was No. 1, and that's on a larger scale than what I was doing, but it took her four years to return to No. 1 after some injuries. So it really is tough. I think you can turn it around. You have to have patience and be positive, and the hard work will pay off eventually."
The 6-foot-6-inch Querrey is a forceful player, but it’s rare to hear him powerfully bellow a "C'mon!" after ripping a winner. He does not have fellow American Andy Roddick's rabid intensity, wearing all of his emotions on his sleeves. Querrey is a relaxed person who is very competitive, but he doesn't always open the oven door to show fans that he has cracked up his broiler.
"Everyone shows intensity in a different way," the 64th-ranked Querrey said. "Some guys are more open about it; some guys are quieter. I don't think it means any guy wants it more than the next guy. But I have been a little more vocal, little more showing that I want it just because it's been a year and I feel like I'm getting back out there. It feels like it's almost like I'm starting over again, like I'm 19 years old trying to climb my way back up the rankings."
In February, Querrey made a big decision to part ways with his longtime coach David Nainkin and hire fellow American Brad Gilbert, who has coached a number of notable players, including Andre Agassi, Roddick, Andy Murray and Japan's Kei Nishikori.
The two didn’t see immediate results, but since April, Querrey has been fairly consistent, winning the USTA Sarasota Challenger, qualifying for Rome and Nice and winning four matches at both locales, and then two weeks before Wimbledon, reaching the semifinals of Queens.
He's always had a lethal serve and forehand, but he’s not a great mover and at times has played too defensively and allowed other players to push him out of position. Gilbert has told him to play to his strengths.
"We're working on playing big," Querrey said. "Hitting big first serves, big second serves, big forehands. I'm just trying to come at guys more. Lots of just short balls, just boom, hit it. Hit it as hard as you can and keep coming."
With the unknown Lukas Rosol having stunned two-time champion Rafael Nadal, the bottom half of the Wimbledon draw is now wide open. It might be too early to think that Querrey can make a deep push into the second week, but if his recent play indicates anything, it's fair to say that he has a chance in every match he plays. That includes his upcoming third-round match against Marin Cilic of Croatia, an equally tall player with just as much firepower who beat him in five sets at 2009 Wimbledon and in a tight three-setter in Queens a few weeks ago.
"It's rare to play a guy all three times on grass because it's such a short season," Querrey said. "It's kind of a similar style to Raonic. His serve might not be quite as big, but maybe he's a little more dynamic from the baseline. I'm going to try to be a little more aggressive than usual or two weeks ago. He's just a tough guy. No one wants to see Cilic in his draw."