Is Querrey Cutthroat Enough For Tennis?

| April 7th, 2011, 10:31 pm

By Matthew Laird, Special to

These are tough times for Sam Querrey. Despite the fact that he’s one of the 20 best tennis players in the world, he hasn’t been playing like it so far this season. In 2010, Querrey made the finals of five different events on three different surfaces, winning four titles. He was the only player other than Rafael Nadal to win a title on clay, grass, and hard courts last year. But in 2011, he’s 6-8 so far, with two of those losses coming to Ryan Sweeting, another American who had never been ranked inside the top 100 until a few weeks ago. Nothing against Sweeting, but he’s not a player who Querrey should be losing to twice in the span of a few tournaments.

Querrey has a prodigious amount of talent. If you were to say that he’s just a big serve and a big forehand you’d be selling him short, but there is no doubt that he has a huge serve and a huge forehand. But he also moves very well for a man of his height, has good defensive skills, and can finish points at the net. He’s made eleven finals and won six titles in three years, and he’s shown he can play on all surfaces. While there’s no question that he’s got one of the biggest serves among active players, there’s a lot more to his game. At just 23, he’s built up the most impressive resume for any American player at that age since Andy Roddick.

Sam Querrey has routinely dominated the field when he’s played the smaller tournaments. In fact, since the beginning of 2009, he has more match wins at the ATP 250 level than any other player, and by a fairly significant margin, too. Despite his success at these events, he has struggled in the higher-tier tournaments. He’s never made it past the fourth round at a Grand Slam, and he’s made it to the quarterfinals at a Masters Series event only twice. He’s struggled in Davis Cup, as well, with his only win in five outings coming in a dead rubber against Serbia. Of course, he’s only played away ties on clay, so you may have to cut him some slack on that score.

In Querrey’s most recent loss to Sweeting, at the U.S. Clay Court Championships in Houston earlier this week, Sam put in a desultory performance in the second set, losing serve three times on the way to double-faulting on set point in the tiebreak. He then lost the third set easily to the lower-ranked American. Earlier this year, Sam had already posted one loss to Sweeting in a match that ended on a very strange note. Sweeting hit an ace on match point that the umpire called a let, but Querrey gave his opponent the point anyway and conceded the match.

On one level, that may have been good sportsmanship, since Sam said afterward that there had been several calls that he didn’t agree with that went his way, but it also seems to reveal something less than the fiery competitive spirit we’ve come to expect from professional athletes. It’s somewhat reminiscent of an episode from the first round of last year’s French Open, when Querrey more or less conceded a match against countryman Robbie Ginepri, admitting afterward that he didn’t want to be out on court. You have to admire his candor, but it’s hard not to question his heart.

Querrey’s unusual relationship with the world of professional tennis may emerge partly from his strange path to the world’s top 20. If you see Jim Courier’s documentary Unstrung, you can see an 18-year old Sam Querrey playing in the final of the 2005 USTA Boys’ 18-and-under National Tennis Championships, and then somewhat reluctantly deciding to try going pro, rather than playing college tennis. Unlike the vast majority of the game’s top players, going pro was not a foregone conclusion for Sam. It was a decision that he struggled with, and maybe some days still isn’t sure was the right one, despite how much success he’s had since making that decision.

Regardless of how exciting it can be at times, there are many facets of the life of a professional tennis player which are hardly enviable. Constantly traveling means getting deja vu from staying in hotel rooms night after night, always struggling with Jet Lag, and never being able to feel at home. It also means having to deal with hearing about your every mistake from the tennis media and – thanks to the internet – from tennis fans, too. Querrey used to be on Twitter, but he suspended his activity because of all the harsh comments he was getting from people who presumably weren’t fans of him, at least.

I am a fan of Sam Querrey. I think he’s an exceptionally talented player, fun to watch when he’s playing his best, and most of all, a genuinely nice and laid-back guy. It seems to me like he’s just not happy with his job, at the moment. When you look at it that way, I think it’s hard not to feel sympathetic. Even though there are thousands of people who wish they could be where Querrey is in his career, with his talents, that doesn’t make his problems any easier for him to deal with.

In most of Querrey’s recent losses, such as his loss to Viktor Troicki in Miami, 7-5 in the third, or his 8-6 loss to Lukasz Kubot at the Australian Open, or especially his fifth set loss to Stanislas Wawrinka in the fourth round of last year’s U.S. Open, the recurring theme was that Sam’s opponent – despite being outplayed for most of the day – simply had more desire in the key moments of the match. It’s this kind of ruthless, big-match, big-point mentality that must be challenging for a guy who seems as easy-going and friendly as Sam Querrey to muster.

That said, he’s had a spectacular career already, even without that killer instinct. Whether or not he’s ever able to adopt that kind of attitude, I hope to see him emerge from his current slump (he’s 7-13 since last year’s U.S. Open) and get back to his winning ways. If he can figure out a way to enjoy his job and get a little bit more cutthroat in tight matches, there’s no telling how much he can accomplish.

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9 Comments for Is Querrey Cutthroat Enough For Tennis?

sara Says:

I hope Sam can turn it around.

thetennisguy Says:

I had the privilege and pleasure of meeting Sam during his first pro tournament where he prevailed over Sam Warburg in a really nice final (Challenger Level). Sam Q. then went home to Thousand Oaks and graduated from high school! I completely agree with everything in this article. Sam is an exceptionally nice guy. Sam Warburg completely congratulated him on his decision to turn pro during his speech after losing the final. He told Sam that it was a sound decision (Warburg is a Stanford grad) because his talent level was way beyond anyone at that level (Challenger level). This has proven true. I am a committed Sam Querrey fan and I hope he has a great season this year. I think we can all sympathize with him to some degree, but with that level of talent his responsibility is to reach is highest potential. That responsibility is to himself, his family and his country. He’s a great kid. I wish there were more Sam Querrey’s coming up … He’s a gamer … and I believe he will come through.

grendel Says:

Very interesting post. “I think he’s an exceptionally talented player, fun to watch when he’s playing his best, and most of all, a genuinely nice and laid-back guy.”

But it’s the “genuinely nice and laid back” bit which obviously gets in the way of his getting “a little bit more cutthroat in tight matches”.

It seems that to be a successful professional sportsman entails an ability to stand back and deny every social and amiable instinct he posseses. It’s almost as if the player has to have a shadow psyche which he draws upon in tight situations. It’s not unique, of course. In the midst of battle, soldiers have to do this – if they wish to stay alive, never mind achieve their targets – and after it’s all over, they can become teddy bears again. Look at someone like del Potro, clearly an extraordinarily nice and gentle man who somehow transforms into a fearsome warrior on the court.

The novelist Graham Greene used to say an author had to have a sliver of ice in his heart. That is, even in the midst of personal turmoil, for instance, there would be that cool, clinical observer within taking note of everything for future reference.

I don’t know much about Querry, but he strikes me as being of the old school. A game is just a game, preferably followed by a few beers. I think it’s remarkable that such people can still exist in the cauldron which is professional sport today. We should treasure them really even though it must be frustrating to their fans that they rarely play right to the edge of their abilities. There are others a bit like that – Gulbis, Baghdatis, Malisse perhaps. Eccentrics, all. Do we really want everyone to be full of “passionate intensity”? The best, after all, lack all conviction….

Tennis Vagabond Says:

Grendel, thats funny stuff but I’m pretty sure Yeats meant that as a lament not a cheer!

What do we lack?
And when do we lack it?

jane Says:

I like Sam Querrey too, always have; I was happy for him last year when he won on all surfaces. However, he may indeed be of the “whatever, nevermind” set, a quality that may even draw me to him, but also one that, as grendel points out, may be the very thing that stops him from fulfilling his potential.

Still, this fact, that – “since the beginning of 2009, he has more match wins at the ATP 250 level than any other player, and by a fairly significant margin, too. Despite his success at these events, he has struggled in the higher-tier tournaments” – suggests it may be something else.

If he didn’t like his job or if he lacked competitive spirit, then why does he win all these smaller events, dominating the field? Just because his talent gets him there? Surely he must still have to have competitive spirit even in these events. Maybe it’s a belief thing when it comes to big events or bigger expectations, a mental block. Who is his coach? Maybe he needs a better mentor? Just a thought.

grendel Says:

“If he didn’t like his job or if he lacked competitive spirit, then why does he win all these smaller events, dominating the field?”

Perhaps it’s a matter of degree. When I used to follow cricket more closely, there were always those players who were very dominant in county cricket but failed time and again at the higher Test level. Sometimes, this might have been due to a lack of class. But not always. The pressure to succeed in the big games is what did for most of these players. They just didn’t like it.

People like Roddick and Nadal and Federer and Djokovic thrive on intense pressure. They are excited by the demands it makes on them. Querry strikes me as an altogether different animal. He looks like an amiable goofball wandering out of a P.G.Wodehouse novel. No doubt this is to some degree illusory – but I doubt if it’s entirely misconceived.

VE Says:


No, Querrey is not cutthroat enough for the big time. For whatever reason, the guy just don’t want it enough.

When you look at Nadal, Federer, Djokovic, you get the feeling there is nothing that guy would rather be doing than slicing the proverbial hearts out of their competition on the court. They are born and bred athletes, and frankly, winners.

Querrey seems like he can’t wait to go home and hang out at In-N-Out with the Sam-urai. He’s got ridiculous talent, but I can’t help thinking this guy’s a townie forced to tour the world. He’s been to Melbourne, Paris, London, New York and hasn’t been impressed at all, or motivated to keep up with the Joneses.

That’s OK, the world needs plenty of good solid people. People who want to stay in their hometown, buy a house, settle down, cut the grass and have a cookout with their buddies on the 4th of July. The ATP Tour, however, not so much.

leo vixen Says:

I love the same comparison made last year, “Querry is the only player in 2010 besides Nadal to win a tournament on 3 different surfaces”. Hahahahaha! Albeit true, Nadal’s just happened to be the FO, Wimbledon, and the USO. Just a little bit different from Sam’s. ;-)))

leo vixen Says:

@ Grendel. That’s exactly how I peg him, “a goof ball” or a “dufus”
Hahaha! With Mr. Ed teeth.

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