Querrey’s quest: American finally tracks down No. 1

July 2, 2016 05:37 PM

By Sandra Harwitt, special to USTA.com

It’s not every day that a tennis player gets to perform the ultimate feat of upsetting the world’s No. 1 player.

At least, it certainly hasn’t been a regular occurrence for American Sam Querrey, who in his 11-year career had failed to find success when faced with that lofty task on eight previous occasions.

But Saturday at Wimbledon was a new day and a new opportunity. This time around, the 28th-seeded Querrey, a rangy Californian with a decidedly easy-going manner and towering serve, sent shockwaves around the tennis planet.

With lady luck on his side, the 28-year-old finally met the challenge of beating a current best-in-the-business by ousting two-time defending Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic, 7-6, 6-1, 3-6, 7-6. They had played nine times before, but the only time Querrey ruled over Djokovic in the past was at the 2012 Paris Indoors, his best previous victory as the Serb was ranked No. 2 at the time.

Querrey, who did a bicycle jump and fist pump upon victory and accepted a thumbs up and chest pat from Djokovic at the net, agreed that this take down of Djokovic marked the best win of his career.

“Yeah, definitely,” he said. “I think with the stage that it was at, here at Wimbledon, to beat Novak, who is playing at such a high level for the past five year, I would say so.”

The match played out over two rain-soaked days where Mother Nature appeared to have the upper hand. On Friday, the encounter was halted by rain with the 41st-ranked Querrey already enjoying a two-set lead, having won the second set in a brief 22 minutes.

The rain was to remain a part of the 2-hour, 57-minute proceeding as Saturday delivered three more rain delays before Querrey scored the upset. Initially, the overnight delay benefitted Djokovic, who raced to a 5-0 lead, eventually grabbing the third set. But Querrey kept his focus and held firm to clinch the match in the fourth set. Rebounding from a 3-1 deficit in the tiebreak, Querrey secured the third-round victory on a second match point when Djokovic blasted a forehand out.

More than four hours after beating Djokovic, and after partnering Steve Johnson to lose a doubles encounter to 14th seeds Radek Stepanek and Nenad Zimonjic, Querrey offered a realistic assessment of his victory.

“I’m not going to lie and say going into it I thought I was going to win,” Querrey said. “But I think as the match progressed, I was serving well and holding in the first set. … I gained a little more confidence with every game.”

Querrey’s achievement is more notable when viewed in context of Djokovic’s current stature in the game. Many within the sport had anointed Djokovic as the invincible one, the player too difficult to defeat in this era of men’s tennis. After all, when Djokovic won his first French Open trophy last month, he was not just picking up a 12th career Grand Slam title. He became only the third man in history, behind Don Budge and Rod Laver, to complete a non-calendar Grand Slam. It’s worth noting that both of those former champions had also nailed down calendar Grand Slams in their careers, Laver twice.

Djokovic was potentially on a similar course this year, having already won the first two majors of the season. He also went into Saturday’s encounter having won his last 30 Grand Slam matches and had not even lost a set before the round-of-16 at a major since 2014 Wimbledon.

So it is to Querrey’s credit that he’s the guy who, at least temporarily, suspended the notion that Djokovic is untouchable. His victory shipped Djokovic to a Grand Slam exit in the third round for the first time since the 2009 French Open and marked the first time a defending champion has ever lost in the Wimbledon third round.

Querrey posted 31 aces in the match, won 79 of 100 first serve points and was serving at an average of 123 mph on his first serve.

“He played a terrific match,” Djokovic said of Querrey. “He served very well, as he usually does. I think that part of his game was brutal today. He made a lot of free points with the first serve. Just well done. He just overpowered me.”

What lies ahead for Querrey is his fourth career Grand Slam fourth-round appointment. He previously reached the round of 16 at Wimbledon in 2010 and at the US Open in 2008 and 2010; to date, he’s never journeyed beyond that vantage point at a major.

Querrey’s next opponent will be Frenchman Nicolas Mahut, who holds a 2-0 winning record over him, including in the ’s-Hertogenbosh semifinals last month.

“As far as Mahut goes, he beat me a few weeks ago in ’s-Hertogenbosch,” Querrey said. “He’s a great grass-court player. If you look at the last few years, the bulk of his great events have come on grass.”

Querrey was all about perspective as he looked ahead to another possible career milestone before heading out of the All England Club in the cloak of darkness on Saturday night.

“It’s been a surreal day,” he said, smiling. “It’s been exciting. But this wasn’t the final. There’s a lot of tennis left to be played. I want to win that next match and make a (first) Grand Slam quarterfinal.”