As of Tuesday night, it's been a good tournament for U.S. players -- with one exception, no American had lost unless it was to another American.
That one exception was Sam Querrey, who lost a three-setter to Denis Gremelmayr after being up a break in both the second and third sets.
Querrey, who's impossibly laid back, wasn't too discouraged -- "I didn't play poorly" -- just unhappy with a few missed forehands, and a bit frustrated to find the court playing significantly slower than last year.
On the surface, he hasn't changed much in the intervening 12 months, but there are a few subtle differences. This time last year, Querrey was still a 19-year-old rookie who'd just been
called out by James Blake for playing with a hole in his shoe and was relating stories about
getting to hit with Pete Sampras (complete with gory details of Sampras'
mid-practice nosebleed). He had just broken into the top 100 and though he was starting to attract attention with his big 6'6" game, every win was still a bonus. He said he rarely scouted his opponents and never reflected on his tactics after a match.
Now Querrey is on the verge of the top 50, a regular at Sampras' backyard court, and there's not a hole to be seen in his multicolor pattered sneakers. The biggest difference between then and now, he says, is added focus and discipline. "I've been training harder, acting a little more like a real professional -- being a little more prepared, doing the things on the practice court that I should be doing, getting to tournaments early and really practicing, tactically playing a little smarter on the court."
The basic playbook hasn't changed -- "most of the time, I do what I do out there. If it works, it works. It it doesn't, it doesn't." But the extra experience seeps into his decision-making during points.
The crux of his first-round contest in San Jose came at 5-4, when Querrey put himself two points from the match by waiting out Gremelmayr in a long rally. "Last year, I woud have maybe pulled the trigger a little earlier but now I'm a little more patient," he said.
A couple of points later, however, Querrey overcooked a sitter forehand and then tentatively watched a running forehand winner go by. The question of how aggressive to be is still an unresolved one.
"I tend to walk away from [this] match thinking I could have been a little more aggressive on my backhand side, pushed the gas a little more when I had to," he said. "In practice, I'll work on really on hitting through my backhand, but it's easier said than done. When you get out there, you want to hit out, but you don't want to miss it. Hopefully one day I'll get the balance right."
His main goal this year is consistency, something missing from last year's up-and-down season. His 2007 match-record went like this: 12-7, 2-10, 10-3, 1-6. He's 6-4, so far this year, including a third round at the Australian Open and the semifinals of Delray Beach last week, when he lost to surprise titlist Kei Nishikori in a third-set tiebreak after holding four match points.
Though it was a good opportunity to get close to another big goal for this year -- winning his first ATP tournament -- that loss didn't eat away at him either. "That was a great match," he said.
But lest you think nothing bothers Querrey, he did offer some disapproving words about Gremelmayr's apparent shoulder problems late in the first set and early in the second. "That little shoulder thing, I don't know what that was," said Querrey. "His shoulder was hurting, he's taking an injury timeout -- next game he goes long, he hits the serve hard. It's like, 'uhh.' That's not why [I lost], it's just a little unsportsmanlike, I think, when guys do that."
Querrey spent the offseason as Sampras' thrice-a-week hitting partner before Sampras' exhibitions against Roger Federer in Asia. The two Southern California residents practiced together about two dozen times during the off-season, after a couple of sessions during the first part of the year.
"The first or second time I went to his house, I was nervous, really wanted to show him. Now, I've kind of been there a few times, we've become a little closer." said Querrey. "He's really nice. Gives me tips every now and then. He's got a beautiful house at Beverly Hills that we play at.
"We go to his house, turn on music, play a couple of sets, you know. It's more of a relaxed thing."
Here's the backyard scouting report: "He can still go out there and pop the serve. He can still
play, definitely," said Querrey. "The more he plays the better he gets... every time we played last year, I felt get got better and better."
And did he watch his practice partner take on Federer on TV? "Not really. I didn't even know what channel they were on or anything."