Querrey's grass game takes root

6/18/2010 - Tennis Sam Querrey

Winning titles on three different surfaces in 2010 is a tribute to Sam Querrey's athletic versatility. Read the fine print between those headlines, however, and what comes through is resiliency.

In one of the season's more remarkable bounce-backs, Querrey capered through the draw at Queen's Club to win his first-ever grass-court championship. The traditional Wimbledon tuneup was Querrey's first event since he nose-dived in the first round of the French Open and, in brutally frank postmatch comments, told reporters he felt "mentally out of it," unable to take points by the throat, and couldn't wait to leave Paris.

It's easy to forget that Querrey is still only 22 years old. There are days and weeks at a time now where he competes like a mature professional capable of beating anyone on any court in the world, and days now and then where he looks like a listing, transplanted palm tree in desperate need of the soil and sun of his native Southern California.

Querrey went home and didn't touch a racket or work out at all for a week. He hung out with friends and family, went to the beach and took in a couple of Lakers games. Refreshed, he attacked grass-court practice without terribly high expectations -- he was 11-10 lifetime on the surface coming into Queen's -- and dropped only one set en route to the title. He'll come into Wimbledon as the 18th seed, with real hopes of sticking around for the second week at a tournament where he hasn't been past the second round in three previous tries.

It's also easy to forget that Querrey is just nine months removed from a freakish accident that cost him the end of last season and could have cost him his career. His coach, David Nainkin, certainly hasn't forgotten the September day in Bangkok when Querrey sat down on a glass table in the locker room only to have it shatter and severely gash his right arm, just missing a crucial nerve.

From the moment he was able to hit again, Querrey really never stopped, pushing all the way through the nominal offseason to be ready for Australia, where he didn't fare well, and a tough Davis Cup first round in Serbia. His hard work began to pay off in February with a title on hard court in Memphis over his good friend and doubles partner John Isner.

Querrey then embarked on his longest-ever sojourn in Europe and was rewarded with a title on clay in Belgrade -- again topping Isner -- and an appearance in the doubles final in Rome. By the time he arrived in Paris, "What you had was a young man who was tired -- mentally and physically exhausted," Nainkin said.

Nainkin gave Querrey the option of not playing Queen's, but the two decided it would be best for him to get a couple of grass-court matches under his belt before Wimbledon. It turned out to be a prescient choice.

Grass felt as slick and treacherous as ice for Querrey when he first turned pro. "I never thought I'd be able to win a match on it," he told reporters this week. The surface was kind to his big serve and forehand, but like many tall players, the 6-foot-6 Querrey found the more precise footwork tricky and the low bounce hard to handle.

Querrey has been working with U.S. Tennis Association strength and conditioning coaches (primarily Rodney Marshall, who is based in Carson, Calif., near Querrey's home) for the past year, and his improved overall fitness has helped him gain quickness and the flexibility required to keep his center of gravity lower, Nainkin said.

"He's more comfortable with the movement now, he's taking the ball earlier, flattening his shots out and following them into the net more," Nainkin said. Querrey said he's trying to be more aggressive on his second serves, which resulted in a few more double faults in Queen's but is still the smart play for his power game.

Querrey's amiable, wise-cracking exterior off the court can be deceiving. "I don't think anyone can be as good as he is at his age and be laid-back," Nainkin said. When Querrey struggles with composure these days, it's usually because he's not meeting his own sterner standards, a symptom of the fact he has more competitive hunger than ever. He pronounced himself "happy and pleased" that he "stayed level-headed the whole week" in Queen's, but he's also brimming with unconcealed ambition to translate his recent success to better results in the Masters Series and Grand Slam events that will boost his ranking faster. He's currently at a career-high No. 21.

"You have to play your best tennis in those events, which I haven't so far," said Querrey, whose best showing in a major is a round of 16 appearance in the 2008 U.S. Open. It would be something if that concept finally took root on the lawns of SW19.

Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com. She can be reached at bonniedford@aol.com.