June 12, 2010

Seeking the Mini Slam

Today I played tennis on a hard court for the first time since college. Man, was it ugly -- ironic, too, since I spent so much of my childhood playing on the surface. But it certainly gave me a greater appreciation for the pros who shift so seamlessly from one to another and for how amazing it is for one man or woman to achieve that elusive career Grand Slam.

And while most of the focus is rightfully on winning the Majors, Sam Querrey will be going for his own slam of sorts tomorrow -- playing in his first final at the prestigious Queen's Club, he has the chance to become the first player this year to win a title on all three courts this year. Already owning trophies from Memphis and Belgrade -- ironically both times beating his friend and countryman John Isner -- he's now looking to prove himself on grass.

Sam has done well on the surface before -- he made the finals last year in Newport and even took then-#13 Marin Cilic to five sets at Wimbledon in 2009. To make the championship match in London, the seventh-seed hasn't had to work terribly hard. In his opening match he faced his professional foil Robby Ginepri, a man who beat him for the '09 title in Indianapolis and stunned him early at Roland Garros during his spectacular run to the fourth round there. But since then, Sam's been unstoppable -- he played a couple of close matches, but didn't drop a set until a tiebreak gave Rainer Schuettler the early lead in the semis. But the American rallied through a tight second set and ended up with the win to reach his fourth final of the year.

To claim the title, though, Sam will have to get past another friend who's had to do a little more work this past week. Mardy Fish, who's been recovering from injuries on and off over the past year, reprised his Miami win over defending champ Andy Murray and followed it up by trouncing eighth seed Feliciano Lopez in the semis. In fact, the world #90 has beaten four seeds in a row in London, so he can't exactly be discounted. And, though it was almost three years ago, he has won his only previous meeting with Sam.

Needless to say, a win would be a big boost for Querrey who, ranked twenty-third in the world, is currently the third-best American man in the game. He's been trailing his buddy Isner for the better part of the year, even though he has more titles to his name and leads their head-to-head 2-1. Not that he needs any validation -- pundits have said he has a more well-rounded game and probably more longevity than his uber-tall compatriot. And while Andy Roddick might not be ready to cede his position at the top just yet, Sam sure looks like he's in good shape to hold on to it for a while when it does eventually become his turn.

More importantly, proving just how strong of an all-court player he is would show the world -- not just Americans -- that Sam Querrey is a force to be reckoned with.

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