Newfound Confidence Carries Querrey
Sam Querrey likes to keep things simple.
Case in point: His goals, or rather, his goal, for this season at the start of the year. Querrey, an 11-year ATP World Tour veteran, wanted to qualify for the year-end tournament. No, not that year-end tournament, the Nitto ATP Finals, the prestigious event that welcomes only the Top 8 players in the Emirates ATP Race To London.
Querrey wanted to make the Rolex Paris Masters, the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament that's held two weeks before the Nitto ATP Finals. Querrey had missed Paris the past two years, despite a ranking good enough to qualify.
“The last two years I've just been so tired and grumpy I've pulled out of the last two tournaments of the year. So literally my only goal at the beginning of the year was to make it to the Paris Masters,” Querrey exclusively told ATPWorldTour.com.
If he's up for it, Querrey will again easily qualify for the Paris Masters, and he might also make the Nitto ATP Finals. The 29 year old is currently 10th in the Emirates ATP Race To London, and with two players ahead of him – Stan Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic – ending their seasons early to due injury, Querrey is in even better position to make his debut at The O2 from from 12-19 November.
“It's exciting. There's still a lot of tennis left in the year. You don't want to get too excited yet but it's a great position to be in and hopefully I can continue playing well throughout the year and give myself a shot to make it toward the end,” Querrey said.
“It's not really something that was on my radar the last few years but to possibly be in a position to get there would be a really cool thing.”
Querrey is enjoying a resurgence during his 12th season on the ATP World Tour. He's just the latest player to turn in his best year as he trends closer to 30 than 20.
The American is on pace to earn his highest year-end position in the Emirates ATP Rankings. He's had his best Grand Slam run by reaching the Wimbledon semi-finals, and he's already won two ATP World Tour titles – Acapulco (d. Nadal) and Los Cabos (d. Kokkinakis) – equalling his trophy haul from the past six seasons combined.
Improved training and nutrition have helped Querrey and scores of other players, but the biggest change for Querrey has been inside his head. When Craig Boynton started coaching him about two years ago, he knew the American had the skills to rest inside the Top 20 or Top 10. But he needed to convince his player of that as well.
“Most of the tennis was there, it was just more his belief in himself,” Boynton exclusively told ATPWorldTour.com.
Querrey has long had the weapons. The 6'6” right-hander, whose father was drafted by Major League Baseball's Detroit Tigers, has a 1-2 serve-forehand combination among the best in tennis, and his improving return of serve allows him to break enough.
But tennis can be a challenging and lonely sport, one where belief and confidence can matter more than power and forehands. You can have the best serve in the world, but it does you little good if at 6-5 in the fifth you're afraid to go for it.
“You've got to identify what is holding someone back, and with a lot of these tennis players, it's fear of losing,” Boynton said. “But everyone's going to lose. There's no one who goes undefeated throughout the season. So if you don't fear losing, then you can free up in the big moments.”
During the past two seasons, Boynton has seen Querrey play more relaxed. He saw it last year when Querrey ended an eight-match losing streak against World No. 1s and beat Novak Djokovic to reach his first Grand Slam quarter-final at Wimbledon.
He's also seen it this year, when Querrey beat Rafael Nadal to take the Abierto Mexicano Telcel title in Acapulco and when the American gained another win over a World No. 1, this time beating Andy Murray in five sets at Wimbledon to reach his maiden Grand Slam semi-final.
Before January, Querrey had a 14-51 record against Top 10 players, and if his match was pushed to a deciding set, he stood a 50-50 chance of winning.
But this season, Querrey has gone 4-4 against the Top 10 – fifth best on tour – and has won about 70 per cent (11-5) of his deciding sets.
“It's not like I'm necessarily doing anything different as far as practice and things like that. But I feel like I've done a little better job this year of fighting through some matches where I haven't played my best. A lot of times that kind of confidence of winning those matches will carry over to when you play those bigger names,” Querrey said.
Boynton also sees Querrey growing in belief in more subtle ways – in how Querrey talks with reporters and in how he walks around the grounds of a tournament. The self-belief is there, and it's only building.
“The proudest moment in Wimbledon was just looking into his eyes and him starting to think, 'Hey, you know, I think I'm pretty good. I can do this'. That was really goal No. 1 for me starting out with Sam, for him to really realise how good he is and how good he can be,” Boynton said. “We don't talk about it. I can see it. I've said to him for the last 12 months, I truly believe that his best tennis is in front of him.”
This week, Querrey heads to the US Open, where he will have his highest seeding, No. 17, and will go for another career-first: a home Grand Slam breakthrough.
He has reached the fourth round twice in New York (2008, 2010) but never the quarter-finals. Seven years ago, he fell in the fourth round to Stan Wawrinka in the type of match that used to trouble Querrey: a five-set mental battle. He lost 7-6(9), 6-7(5), 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 after four hours and 28 minutes.
But this is a new year and a new week for Querrey, who knows better than most how quickly things can change – and improve – the later you go in your career, and the more belief you possess.
“Confidence is huge...There have been times when I've been ranked 30 or 40 and I felt like a Top 20 player and there have been times when I've been ranked 30 or 40 and I've felt like I'm 75 in the world,” Querrey said.
“But right now I definitely feel like I belong in the Top 20. I feel like I'm playing at a high level. I feel like the way I'm playing and the aggressive mindset that I have is really helping my game and hopefully I can stay in the Top 20 for a long time.”