Wimbledon again a ‘fun place’ for Querrey, the almost man

© Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

WIMBLEDON, England — He’s the almost man of tennis, ranking somewhere between famous and anonymous, a player with a big serve — he set a record once with 10 consecutive aces — and a great personality.

Sam Querrey is just talented enough and persistent enough that, while he’s never won a Grand Slam or even made it to the finals, he’s proven quite capable of keeping others from winning.

Such as at the 2016 Wimbledon, when Querrey stunned world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the third round. Or the 2017 Wimbledon, when he upset Andy Murray, then world No, 1, in the quarterfinals.

Or this year’s Wimbledon, when Tuesday in the first-round, Querrey beat the No. 4 seed and French Open finalist, Dominic Thiem, 6-7, 7-6, 6-3, 6-0.

Yes, a bagel in the final game, an indication both of Querrey’s capability and Thiem’s lack of resistance.

Querrey had saved six break points in the first three sets and then broke Thiem. In scoring and in spirit. ”After that,” said Thiem, “it was tough to come back”

Querrey is 31 now, more than a journeyman — a poor description of any professional athlete — and perhaps less than a Hall of Famer. He’s won 10 ATP Tour events, beating Rafael Nadal in the Acapulco final two years ago, and only last weekend was a finalist at Eastbourne, one of the grass court events leading to Wimbledon.

“It’s fair to say I like playing on grass,” Querrey observed.

It’s also fair to say that Querrey’s career has gone in various directions, not all of them planned.

You may have heard how Sam’s dad, Mike, chose to accept a baseball scholarship to Arizona instead of signing a contract with the Detroit Tigers and never made in the majors. So when Sam, graduating from Thousand Oaks High outside Los Angeles, had a chance to play tennis at USC, Mike, remembering his own disappointment, advised his son to turn pro.

Then, in Thailand for a tournament in 2009, three years into a growing career, Sam leaned on a glass coffee table that shattered, severely cutting his arm. A recovery period followed, of course. And then this year, thinking everything was going well, Querrey injured a stomach muscle and missed several weeks. Eastbourne was his return after the absence.

Yet Querrey never has been one to complain. He gives as much to tennis as part of the time-consuming Players’ Council as he takes, and he remains a factor in every tournament, especially those on grass, few as they may be.

“It truly is one of the only sports where you’re on your own,” Querrey said of tennis singles competition. “I’m someone who is probably for coaching (not allowed by the ATP) ... But in the meantime, I do enjoy the battle, having to figure it out on your own. You know, that’s what makes tennis unique.”

Whether that’s completely accurate — a golfer sometimes must make corrections during a tournament — Querrey understands the game, the success and the failing. Some of it is physical. So much is mental.

Asked how a quality player like Thiem could collapse in their match, Querrey said, “I think me getting that break deflated him a little bit, especially having opportunities in the second set. I think maybe he lost confidence a little bit. I know this isn’t his favorite surface.”

That would be clay, since Thiem, from Austria, grew up on that surface, as do most European players. However, Thiem said it wasn’t on what he played but how he played. “Pretty bad after the break point,” said Thiem.

Querrey, who started at age 4 because there was a tennis club down the street from his home, basically learned on cement courts. But his game is perfect for grass, where serving is dominant.

“This is probably my favorite tournament,” said Querrey of Wimbledon. “It’s a fun place to play, especially the last five, six years. I’m confident when I come here, even though I’m not seeded or have won a lot of matches.”

He’s won enough, including Tuesday's match against Dominic Thiem.