By John Huston
Going into Wimbledon, if there was a poster boy for the disappointment of American men’s tennis, it might have been Sam Querrey. Once a promising junior, and briefly a US No. 1 in the post-Roddick landscape, the lanky 28-year-old from Thousand Oaks with NorCal roots had some minor career titles and grass results to his name, but was perhaps best known for his losses, especially some momentous Davis Cup failures. As the collective power of the US men receded ever further, so did Querrey’s profile on the tour. His biggest headlines came from an appearance looking for a girlfriend on the reality show “The Millionaire Matchmaker.”
What a difference a day – or two – makes. With his shocking 7-6(6), 6-1, 3-6, 7-6(5) victory over Novak Djokovic, Querrey has rewritten his rep and perhaps changed the arc of his career, all the while altering tennis history – crushing Djokovic’s hopes of a calendar-year Grand Slam, snapping his win streak of four successive Slams and 30 Slam matches, and dealing the Serb his first pre-quarterfinal Slam loss since the 2009 French Open.
It didn’t come easy. The heavens rained on Querrey’s parade yesterday, stopping the match as soon as he’d steamrolled to a two-set lead. Surely a restless night would instill doubts in Querrey’s head, or as writer Simon McMahon joked, “I reckon both Djokovic and Querrey slept like babies last night – woke up every half-hour crying.”
At the beginning of Saturday’s play, Djokovic raced to a 4-0 lead in the third. The first of today’s rain delays only seemed an opportunity for Querrey to mull over past chokes and a rapidly vanishing lead. But Querrey broke Djokovic once before the world No. 1 claimed the third set, and the battle resumed in earnest in the fourth. The stop-start momentum of sun and rain extended to the court as both players repeatedly fought off break points, Querrey with thunderbolt serves, Djokovic with a steady resolve – if not quite his usual peerless precision. It took Djokovic a dozen break points to gain a 5-4 advantage. A replay of the Serb’s come-from-behind victory against Kevin Anderson at Wimbledon last year began to appear likely. Yet Djokovic appeared to be arming his serve, which lacked its usual speed and pinpoint placement. Querrey broke back and came within a game of victory when the skies opened up yet again.
It was time to note a coincidence: over on Court 18, Querrey’s fellow American Steve Johnson – fresh from a grass title in Nottingham and with seven wins in a row to his name – was also a game away from victory in the fourth set, albeit more assuredly, leading Grigor Dimitrov 5-2. In fact, both matches had lasted the exact same amount of time: two hours, 47 minutes. Could a new, happier day in American men’s tennis be arriving?
The answer was a resounding yes. Johnson struck first, notching a (6)6-7, 7-6(3), 6-4, 6-2 win over his Bulgarian foe. But all eyes were on Court 1, the same court that gave Djokovic trouble against Anderson last year, where the world No. 1 held serve but then sent a series of backhands into the net and one final forehand wide to give the current world No. 41 by far the biggest victory of his career. “It’s incredible, especially to do it here at Wimbledon – I’m so happy and ecstatic,” Querrey said after sealing what’s already been called “Djexit,” adding, “I’m just going to take it one round at a time. I’m not even sure who I play next.” His coach Craig Boynton had some memorable words for the press: “Sometimes a blind squirrel finds a nut,” he said.
MADISON’S AVENUE: Also on Court 1, Madison Keys followed up Querrey’s jaw-dropping victory with a more routine win of her own, albeit over Serena’s frequent bugaboo, French drama queen Alize Cornet. Now into the fourth round, Madison next faces No. 5 seed Simona Halep. With Jack Sock and John Isner still out on court, Americans were 4-0 in singles for the day – Sloane Stephens fought off a match point to squeak out a 3-6, 7-6(6), 8-6 second-round win over Mandy Minella.
CLOSET CASE: When asked what she does when she comes home from a long stretch on the road, Madison Keys said, “I have an amazing closet in my room. I usually just go downstairs and open the doors and sit in it and look at all of the things that I missed.”
NOW HAIR THIS: Madison Keys confided, “I have a ridiculous amount of hair products. Between shampoo, conditioner, hair mask, like leave-in conditioner, hair spray, bobby pins, there’s a lot of toiletries in my bag every tournament.”
TEEN LOVE: Taylor Fritz’s announcement that he and his girlfriend were getting engaged drew attention. The duo are 18. Fritz conceded, “It’s a big step.” But he added, “We have already been traveling the world together for almost three years, so she’s pretty much part of the team at this point. I’m really happy for everything.” Taylor said his goal was to break into the top 50 by the end of the year.
MOTHER AND SON DEBUTS: Former pro Kathy May first walked out at Wimbledon and played Billie Jean King. Her son’s debut was against Stan Wawrinka. Both were 18 and both lost. At least Taylor won a set.
IT’S ELEMENTARY, MY DEAR WATSON: After losing 10-8 in the third set, Britain’s beloved Heather Watson said, “I’m in the worst mood ever. I have but one thing on my mind, to get my life together now. I get motivated quickly…After a loss like this, I’m so angry with myself, I feel like I need to punish myself. I just [go] on Twitter.”
FINE AND NOT MELLOW: Heather Watson was fined $12,000 and Serena Williams $10,000 for racket abuse, while Victor Troicki was fined $10,000 for what seemed like a much larger outburst. Unsurprisingly, volatile Nick Kyrgios has also been hit with a $6,500 fee.