Freak injury sets Querrey back
Sam Querrey celebrated the week of his 22nd birthday by overseeing some redecorating at his new house and taking a side trip to Las Vegas with friends -- activities that were not part of his original plan.
Querrey was supposed to be in Beijing this week, building on a fine 2009 season by gunning for a ranking inside the ATP's top 20. Then fate intervened.
The simple act of sitting down to put on his shoes in the men's locker room at the Thailand Open tournament in Bangkok last week turned nightmarish for Querrey when a glass-topped coffee table he was using as a bench collapsed and shattered underneath him. A shard of glass carved into his right forearm and a dazed Querrey watched in horror as blood began spurting from the wound.
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The freak injury was repaired with emergency surgery in the Thai capital, and the damage doesn't appear to be career-threatening. In what his coach, David Nainkin, called a "best-case worst-case scenario," Querrey is expected to miss only a handful of late-season tournaments and, with few points to defend from last year, probably won't suffer much in the rankings (he's currently No. 25).
Back home in southern California this past weekend, Querrey had enough perspective to attend a UCLA costume party dressed as a shark attack victim, donning surf shorts and a rash guard shirt to accessorize his splint and bandages. But Querrey acknowledges the experience has been traumatic.
"It's still a little tough," he told ESPN.com by telephone this week. "I'm still a little worried, because it still does hurt when I do the slightest movement with my wrist or forearm. But I know it's going to hurt for a little while, and the [physical therapist] says the rehab is gonna hurt a lot, but I'm kind of over the shock of it and the worry that it's really going to affect my career. This is my offseason right now."
Querrey's ordeal began after a practice session with Nainkin in Bangkok. The former South African pro, a longtime coach for the U.S. Tennis Association, said Querrey was primed to excel in what remained of the season after having won his second career title in Los Angeles in August, reached four ATP finals this year, finished first in the U.S. Open Series standings and attained a career-high ranking of No. 22.
"He'd trained really hard for the last two weeks and he was really looking forward to playing," Nainkin said. "This was really bad timing as far as his eagerness was concerned." Querrey lost in the third round at the U.S. Open, but seeing then-20-year-old Juan Martin del Potro beat five-time champion and top seed Roger Federer in the final gave him considerable motivation. "Del Potro is more his peer than Federer or [Rafael] Nadal, and it gave him some belief -- 'If he can do it, I can do it,'" Nainkin said.
An ATP trainer wrapped Querrey's arm right after the accident, and Nainkin accompanied Querrey in the ambulance. The tournament sent a translator, and Querrey's faithful intern, Dan Farrugia, was with him as well. But the support notwithstanding, Querrey said he was overcome by emotion and fear, and had to be sedated. "I couldn't stop crying and shaking because I didn't know how bad it was," he said.
Nainkin got on the phone with Querrey's parents and also contacted a neurosurgeon he knew back in the United States -- Mircea Morariu, who also happens to be the brother of former top women's doubles player Corina Morariu. With their input, Nainkin and Querrey decided they wanted a top orthopedic surgeon at the hospital to operate on the player, although they had to wait a couple of hours until he finished up a spinal operation.
The glass left a nearly 3-inch-long gouge in Querrey's forearm muscle but did not sever it -- and also barely missed a nerve that, if damaged, could have compromised Querrey's chances of ever playing again. "The cut was so clean that the doctor said he would have done it the same way if he were doing a bone graft," Nainkin said. The surgeon stitched up the muscle and skin in four layers, with 25 stitches in all, and gave Querrey and Nainkin a sheaf of photos and documents to show doctors in the United States.
The prognosis? Excellent. Querrey said he expects to start doing light lower-body workouts next week and start physical therapy to build up the muscle in his arm. He should be hitting in a month and "100 percent fully healed, out there, hitting full-out" in two months.
Querrey knows he's lucky, but he went through the full range of feelings once he got home, including a fair amount of anger and frustration. "I was feeling so good about my game the one and a half days I got to practice in Bangkok," he said. "Afterwards, I was pissed and scared and angry and just in shock at what happened. How does this happen and how can it happen to me?"
But Querrey's normally buoyant attitude is serving him well in this situation, and he's been able to refocus on the future. While other players will be taking a break and savoring their relatively short vacations later this year, Querrey will be pounding the courts hard. "When I can start playing, I'm not going to have much time [before the start of the new season], so I'll get in every day I can," he said.
Nainkin said he has encouraged Querrey to think about what he can do rather than what he can't. "We'll have a lot more time to build his legs, we'll work on his volleys and his slice backhand," the coach said. "I think he'll have a positive frame of mind. He's not happy with being No. 22 in the world. He wants to win a Grand Slam."
Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.