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BILL DWYRE

Tennis pro Sam Querrey making it look easy

The hard-serving 21-year-old is ranked 22nd and considered the biggest (6 feet 6) hope for U.S. men's tennis. But he says he feels no pressure.

September 02, 2009|BILL DWYRE

FROM NEW YORK — The new best U.S. men's tennis hope is having too much fun at the moment to worry about what comes with that.

Sam Querrey is a puppy, still growing into his paws.

In the eyes of many who dwell on this sort of thing, Querrey's got next. There is No. 5 Andy Roddick and there used to be James Blake and Mardy Fish.

Now, most prominent on the horizon, there is Querrey.

He is 6 feet 6, routinely hits serves that opponents barely see, became the second-highest-ranked U.S. male Monday when he moved a notch past Blake into the No. 22 spot, and won his U.S. Open first-rounder Tuesday in straight sets.

"I haven't felt any pressure at all in my career," Querrey says.

He is having a dream summer. He has made it to four finals, won the Los Angeles Open, played 27 singles matches since Wimbledon and won 20 of them, and won the U.S. Open Summer Series.

That's an accumulation of points from lead-up tournaments, and his series victory means that whatever he wins here will be doubled. Making it to the second round, as he did Tuesday with a 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 victory over Michael Yani, is worth $31,000. But to the winner of the summer series, Querrey, it already means $62,000.

As a matter of fact, if Querrey did the unthinkable and won this U.S. Open, that prize money, along with his series bonus, would bring him the largest paycheck in the history of tennis, $2.6 million. Roger Federer won both the series and the title in 2007 and pocketed $2.4 million, and tournament prize money has been increased since then.

None of that is weighing on Querrey's mind. Even at 21, he is a big kid who was allowed to have a childhood, rather than being exiled to some boarding school prison camp that spits out cookie-cutter tennis prodigies.

He played tennis at Thousand Oaks High, even lost eight times as a freshman, and was encouraged to play other sports by his family. As good as he got, he struggled with the decision to give back the scholarship to USC and turn pro. His father, Michael, encouraged him to go for it in the pros, but that was the last parental push he got.

"My parents aren't in my face, telling me the game plan before I go out there," Querrey says. "They're just along for the ride, having a good time and enjoying it."

Not just Querrey's parents. The entire extended family.

Tuesday, there were 25 family members and friends in the stands, including grandpa Ed Querrey from Monrovia and uncle Dan Querrey from Middletown Springs, Vt., population 600.

Ed is 77, has had both knees replaced and is attending his fifth straight U.S. Open, going back to the days when Sam played in juniors.

"The real fan is his grandma, Jackie," Ed says. "She's not able to be here, but she's at home with both the computer and the TV going."

Dan, who runs three construction companies and says he has been able to get to just about all of his nephew's recent tournaments because business is slow, says he is the runt of the family at 6 feet 5. His brother Michael is taller, and Ed says he had an uncle who was a 7-footer.

Querrey's mother, Chris, is here, and his dad, a mortgage banker, will arrive Friday, assuming Querrey is still competing. That is likely because he is also playing doubles with 6-foot-9 John Isner, another U.S. player on the rise.

"Sure wouldn't want to return those serves," says Yani, Querrey's vanquished singles opponent.

Querrey holds the ATP record of 10 straight aces. He did that against Blake.

His life these days is as fast as his serves. He is rushed from one news conference to another, to photo shoots staged for the winners of the U.S. Open series, Querrey and Elena Dementieva. One of his sponsors is Adidas, which let him design the red shoes he wears.

"We were having dinner," says Uncle Dan, "and American Express was filming him for some commercial while he ate."

But for the moment, at least, little of this seems to have affected Querrey, who lives in Santa Monica, practices at UCLA and at the Home Depot Center in Carson, jokes about L.A. traffic and admits to being a Clippers fan of some passion.

"Last year? Brutal," he says.

So far, either the heat of the limelight has not affected him, or it hasn't dawned on him that it should.

When he played the tournament in Las Vegas, columnist Ed Graney of the Review-Journal captured this best when he wrote: "Normalcy is not often linked with the life of a tennis prodigy. It defines Querrey."

The new best U.S. men's tennis hope is not exactly some surfer dude, but he is strung about as tight as one. After he beat Yani, he did the obligatory on-court interview and told the interviewer he "hoped this would be a good week" for him.

The interviewer had to remind him that this was a two-week tournament.

--

bill.dwyre@latimes.com.

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