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Baker, Querrey make it an all-American affair

January 15, 2013 07:08 AM
Sam Querrey is set to take on fellow American Brian Baker in the second round Wednesday.
Brian Baker pulled out a five-set win against Alex Bogomolov Jr. in his opening-round match.
By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com

MELBOURNE, Australia—Sam Querrey calls 15-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams the lead player among the Americans. 
But unfortunately for Querrey, Williams is not in the Australian Open men’s draw and cannot be counted on to storm into the second week, with the others advancing quietly while she claims the headlines. 
She can do that on the women’s side and have the U.S.’s numerous talented youngsters follow her along, but the American men enter the 2013 Australian Open hit hard by retirement (Andy Roddick), injury (John Isner, knee) and illness (Mardy Fish). 

Now, it’s up to Querrey, who after a very consistent 2012 ended the year ranked No. 22, to lead the charge. And if it’s not the 25-year-old Californian, then maybe 2012 comeback player of the year candidate Brian Baker can do it. Unfortunately, both players cannot advance—after winning their opening matches on Monday, the two will meet in the second round on Wednesday.

"I don't feel like I am [a leader]. I mean, Serena is probably the real leader," the 20th-seeded Querrey said. "I guess on the men's side, a lot of the younger guys are here, so I guess so, a little bit. I'm just doing the best I can. I'm cheering for the other guys, and they're cheering for me, so we're all in it together. But I don't feel like too much of a leader."

Querrey, who reached the semifinals of the Australian Open tune-up in Auckland, New Zealand, to open his year, played a solid brand of hard-court tennis in taking down Spaniard Daniel Munoz-De La Nava, 6-7 (2), 6-4, 6-2, 6-4, in his opening match in Melbourne. Querrey is willing to speak his mind, but he’s not the type of guy who is going to walk up to a lectern in a crowded hall, grab the microphone and start laying out battle plans.

Given that Isner is his best friend on the tour, he’s not going to claim that he’s the U.S.'s main man, either.

"I feel like the No. 2 American even though John's not here, which is unfortunate," Querrey said. "I haven't even thought about it. Everyone keeps asking me about it, but it's a complete non-issue."

As Querrey says, numerous players claim to have had great offseasons, but that's not always the case. He says that he did not change things up that much, and why should he? He clearly had a productive offseason in 2011, when he was still getting his feet wet again after elbow surgery in the summer, and now he finds himself just five places off his career-high No. 17 ranking.

His opponent in the second round, Baker, knows all about surgeries. In fact, he took multiple trips to the doctor's office before he was able to come back last year and crack the year-end Top 60 behind fine performances during the clay-court season and at Wimbledon, where he qualified and reached the round of 16.

The 27-year-old had to battle in his opening-round match, taking down Alex Bogomolov Jr., 7-6 (4), 6-3, 6-7 (0), 3-6, 6-2. Baker is much more of a known quantity this year, and he realizes that, which is why in the offseason he continued to work diligently to improve his game.

He went to Florida to work with former U.S. Davis Cupper and now coach Todd Martin, who is a disciple of USTA Director of Coaching Jose Higueras. Martin enjoys dissecting the game as much as the legendary Higueras does.

"If anybody would probably understand some of the injuries I went through, he would," said Baker. "He was always a thinker out there, played a cerebral game, and if I'm going to be successful, I'm not always going to beat people on physical tools. I'm going to have to be smart out there, as well.

"I think we have the same general demeanor, too—not afraid to get fired up but, for the most part, pretty low key. A lot of those things add up to making us jell a little bit. Hopefully it'll turn out to be a good partnership."

Querrey and Baker are in top seed Novak Djokovic’s quarter of the draw, but they don't have to worry about the two-time defending champion yet. Young American Ryan Harrison does, as he’ll play Djokovic in the second round.

What they do have to worry about is each other. They got to know one another better last year as their girlfriends became close and they hung out and practiced at some tournaments. Querrey calls Baker, who also has a laid-back demeanor off court, "a great guy."

They have only played once, at a Challenger on clay in 2012, which ended up being a three-set win for Querrey, and certainly never at a match as big as a Grand Slam main draw.
For the American men in Melbourne, a leader could emerge, and the winner of the Querrey vs. Baker contest might just be that guy.
"We haven't hit too much, so it'll be a little bit of a new scenario," Querrey said. "He is playing well. I’m just going to try to keep serving well and dominate with my forehand, and hopefully that's enough to get by him."
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For more coverage of American players at the 2013 Australian Open, see:


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