In his seven-year career, Brit James Ward has not been able to gain entry to one Grand Slam main draw — save for the handful of Wimbledon wildcards he has received. He is a career Challenger-level player, banished to the lower levels of professional tennis due to a shaky forehand and an inability to cross the finish line in big matches.
But that was all forgotten on Friday when Ward handed American Sam Querrey the biggest loss of his career, a loss that only in January will stick with him confidence-wise throughout 2014.
Querrey, who has taken a set off Rafael Nadal on clay in Davis Cup play (in Spain!), folded like a lawn chair on Friday in the second singles match against Britain 1-6, 7-6(3), 3-6, 6-4, 6-1. Querrey led two sets to one and a break in the fourth and the match looked to be over. Until Querrey realized the situation.
This was supposed to be a U.S. vs. Britain meeting that was destined to be decided in the fifth rubber. It was simple math. Murray and Querrey would win on day one, the Bryans on day two, Murray would beat Querrey in the first Sunday match, evening the meet at 2-2, then it would come down to a hairy free-for-all in the decider with green American Donald Young against Ward. But Querrey blew the scenario.
“Yeah, a little bummed I couldn’t help the team out,” Querrey said in traditional understatement.
In the opener Andy Murray absolutely blew out the overmatched, deer-in-the-headlights Donald Young, allowing the American only six games. Then it was Querrey’s turn.
Querrey had lost to Ward in their only previous meeting, but that was on grass and this was on clay, a surface foreign to Ward and somewhat comforting to Querrey. Clay allows Querrey extra time to set up the big forehand.
But you have to be fit to play on clay, mentally and physically, and Querrey could not close the door on his lead. Serving at 4-3, leading two sets to one, Querrey loses eight straight games, suddenly looking sluggish and, probably due more to nerves than the physicality of the moment, could barely maintain his balance much less step into the court and crunch balls. His groundstrokes all landed short, the sign of a nervous player not generating enough racquet-head speed or getting his footwork in place.
“As the match goes on you start to see a little bit of his patterns and he starts to get a little bit more tired,” Ward said of his comeback. “I think everything plays a part. And the pressure. He’s got to close out a match that’s difficult for him. They’re one (match) down, and he’s expected to beat me — on paper.”
The Bryan brothers will likely get the job done for the U.S. on Saturday, with or without Murray on the court. So Sunday will come down to a brutal staging for Querrey in a must-win match against Murray.
More than a loss to the Slam champ Murray, the match will be for a Querrey a reminder of what could have been against the lesser-ranked Ward — especially when the Brit team swarms the court and Murray to celebrate what would be a first win over the U.S. in almost 80 years. This will be a tough one for the big American to put behind him.
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