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Long journey Down Under worth it for unheralded Americans

1/18/2008 - Tennis
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

MELBOURNE, Australia -- There's something about this tournament that suits the current crop of American men, who feed off it like contented Koala bears munching on eucalyptus leaves. Five of them have made it as far as the third round.

Is it the near-guaranteed sunshine? The casual, beach-party atmosphere? The rabid crowds? The hard courts? That all may be true, but Sam Querrey had a slightly different take.

"I'm not a big sightseer," said the 20-year-old from Thousand Oaks, Calif. "And sometimes when you go to Europe, you have to see the Eiffel Tower and places like that. You don't have to see anything here, and I like that."

All Querrey wants to see right now, as he tries to improve on an encouraging but uneven first full season on the ATP circuit, are fuzzy yellow balls landing inside the lines. He'll have to be very good at that geometry to get past his next opponent, No. 3 seed Novak Djokovic.

Querrey knocked off 32nd-seeded Dmitry Tursunov in four chippy sets. Despite his Russian passport, Tursunov is nearly as much a Californian as Querrey -- he has lived more than half his life there and has a home in Sacramento. The two tall blonds look as if they'd be just as comfortable carrying surfboards as tennis rackets.

But Querrey, who made the third round here last year, didn't fly all this way to take a vacation. He swatted 13 aces, giving him 34 in the past two matches to tie Ivo Karlovic for the tournament lead, and stayed cool as Tursunov fumed in the late going.

This continent feels comfortable to Querrey for reasons he's not particularly intent on analyzing. He likes the weather and he did allude to the fact that his coach, Grant Doyle, is Australian and has a posse of friends and family present.

"It's kind of nice, they can show me around," said Querrey, who presumably has told his escorts he doesn't want to see any large monuments.

It was only one of three upsets by U.S. men in the second round. Mardy Fish, who will play 24th seed Jarkko Nieminen of Finland Friday, got there by dismissing Spain's 11th-seeded Tommy Robredo with clinical ease. One more win would set him up for a clash with close pal Andy Roddick for the second year in a row. Roddick won when the two met in the 2007 quarterfinals.

Fish didn't hesitate to list the reasons he likes it in Oz -- it's convenient, friendly and feels like home with a slightly tweaked accent. It's more manageable and less pressure-filled than the U.S. Open.

"New York is such a fast-paced tournament, and I'm kind of a small-town boy," said Fish, who hails from Edina, Minn., a suburb of Minneapolis. "So a lot of that attention might not suit me as well."

Vince Spadea outlasted German qualifier Denis Gremelmayr in a rousing five-setter on an outer court -- the second match in a row in which the 33-year-old has gone the full distance.

"I felt like Jimmy Connors, except in a park," said Spadea, who beat Andre Agassi here in 1999 to make the quarterfinals, his best Grand Slam showing. He'll take on Spain's tireless David Ferrer in the next round.

James Blake was effusive about Melbourne, saying the only thing he doesn't like is how long it takes to get here.

"It's a fun-loving crowd, and they see me having fun on the court and kind of feed off that," he said after knocking off fellow American Michael "Pocket Rocket" Russell. "I feed off them. They feed off me. It's just a great feeling. Being out there in Margaret Court Arena, it seems like you could almost have a conversation with the people in the front row. They're so close.

"I think rowdy atmospheres are a lot more fun. … Being an American, I'm a fan of basketball and football and baseball, where the crowd's going crazy the whole time. I've always enjoyed that. I don't know if it will ever fit or ever go that route in tennis, but I enjoy an excited and sometimes a biased crowd."

Serbian fans will doubtless show up in force to support Djokovic against Querrey. The two, born only a few months apart, have never played and are riding very different waves. Asked if Djokovic had ever targeted him for one of his trademark impersonations, Querrey said dryly, "I don't think you really imitate guys if they're not in the top 10."

The lanky, 6-foot-6 Querrey said his six-week offseason was spent working with a personal trainer as hard as he ever has in his life to try to avoid the late-season slump that undid a lot of his good early results.

"We were in the gym a couple hours a day," he said. "Some days we'd go down to the beach and do beach workouts in the sand. Sometimes we'd do weights. I'd bench between 350 and 400 [pounds], usually like 10 reps."

He stopped and looked at the small group of blank-faced reporters in front of him. "No one got that," he said as laughter broke the silence.

Querrey was invited to be a Davis Cup hitting partner but declined, and says, without rancor, that he's done it several times and would prefer not to return until he's asked to play -- even if that takes a while.

In the meantime, he'll play tourist. Getting any deeper into the draw would be quite a trip.

Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com. E-mail her at bonniedford@aol.com.