February 21, 2010

Between Friends and Teammates

Strangely, for two men who came of tennis age in the same era, cracking into the sport's elite around the same time, facing challenges from the same players, Americans John Isner and Sam Querrey have never played each other on a singles court.

That's not to say they're strangers, by any means. They'll be leading the U.S. Davis Cup team this year and have paired together for more than a few doubles matches -- in fact, they're playing on the same side of the net for the championship in Memphis as I type. But one-on-one, their record was clear until this afternoon.

From the start the Regions Morgan Keegan final promised to be a great match-up. Isner, the sixth seed and now the second best player in the country behind Andy Roddick, had gotten past another big server in Ivo Karlovic and overcame a challenge presented by Philipp Petzschner in the semifinals. Querrey, for his part, avenged his loss to Roddick last week in San Jose on his way to his seventh career final.

For the first two sets neither man was able to break the other's serve -- not surprising when Sam, at six-foot-six, is the short one of the two. They split the tiebreaks and fittingly forced a third set with more than the scoreboard showing how even things were. They'd both scored seventy-three points, fired off fifteen aces, won an incredible percentage on first serves. It wasn't until early in the third that Querrey converted his first break point and, just for emphasis, broke one more time for a 6-3 score in the decider.

It was certainly a great result for Sam -- after a strong start to last summer, he struggled when playing for the title, only winning once in four attempts. Isner, who won his first title in Auckland this year, was certainly on more of a roll, racking up a nice 8-1 record before this tournament. But it was a better result for a country that has been struggling to find its next generation of stars. Clearly both John and Sam proved that there is plenty of talent still to come out of the U.S.

Meanwhile in Buenos Aires two other Davis Cup teammates were battling for the Copa Telmex title. David Ferrer and former world #1 Juan Carlos Ferrer hadn't met since the 2008 Australian Open, but with JCF clearly on the comeback trail while Ferrer continues to falter, you had to give the second seed the advantage, despite David's higher ranking and better head-to-head record.

Ferrer did in fact take the first set, but Ferrero came back to take the second set and ultimately broke his compatriot in the final game of the third to take his second title of the year -- he'd won the Brazil Open just last week. It was a solid victory for a man who, a year ago, had fallen out of the top hundred. You certainly can't count him out as a threat going forward.

What's great about today's title matches is that, results aside, before long all these guys are going to find themselves on the same side -- some sooner than others -- fighting for the same cause. It's nice to see that kind of camaraderie in a sport, especially when you're talking about some of the most talented athletes in the field.

And it certainly makes for great games to watch!

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