Querrey Turns into a Clay Court Player

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Sam Querrey reached the quarterfinals, on red clay no less, at Monte Carlo and Richard Gasquet has a lot on his mind.

There were lots of bagels in the third round of play at Monte Carlo. Novak Djokovic over Andy Murray 6-0, 6-4. Is Murray just inconsistent or is he arriving one generation late on the pro tennis tour? It doesn’t look like his finesses game stands up against the powerful and consistent Djokovic. Finesse only works these days if it’s backed up with a 100mph (160kph) forehand and that’s just the way it is. David Ferrer over Janko Tipsarevic 6-4, 6-0, and David Nalbandian over Tommy Robredo 6-1, 6-0. The only thing surprising about that last score is that Nalbandian didn’t go down a break or two before getting his game in gear.

All those bagels lead me to believe that the tournament is settling into some kind of order after a few crazy results in previous rounds, but there was one big craziness: Sam Querrey somehow managed to beat Richard Gasquet in three sets. Let’s look at that because I’m really curious about Gasquet’s state of mind considering his recent Davis Cup troubles and now that he’s been beaten by an American hard court specialist on red clay, he’s gonna get a lotta crap back in Paris, I guarantee you, and that can’t be good for a player who is already under siege.

Querrey is another one of those basketball-player sized hard court players the U.S. specializes in. He’s not light on his feet – at one point he put his back foot too far behind him and it slipped out from under him on the soft clay – but those long legs and arms make up for it. It doesn’t take him long to get from here to there. There’s another advantage to his size. I can’t think of a basketball-tall tennis player with a weak serve. Can you? And he should have a decided advantage on the kick serve.

Querrey is also a quick study. He’s hitting drop shots and making the right decisions on the red clay. He has one of those window washer forehands that go in a tight arc in front of his body and when he gets pulled wide he has a hard time driving the ball deep so he was making the right play by coming to the net as much as possible.

He lost the first set 6-2 but he started the third set off by winning his first three service games at love. In his next service game he started missing serves but his focus was solid as he managed to fight off seven break points to save the game with an assortment of aces, service winners, and one of those runaround, outside the doubles alley forehands that travel on an impossibly sharp angle.

Gasquet wasn’t playing terribly but I could help but think back to three years ago when he beat Roger Federer here in the quarterfinals and he was a young gunslinger, a player who went for winners from any place on the court. I still remember the backhand passing shot he hit on match point that looked impossible for how far he was behind the baseline. But now, I don’t see that. Querrey is making the exciting shots if anything.

Is Gasquet playing more conservatively by design or have the expectations worn away his daring? And what is the state of his mind right about now? Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Paul-Henri Mathieu are both creeping up on him in the rankings. Both his Davis Cup teammate Mathieu and his Davis Cup captain Guy Forget were frustrated that he didn’t play Andy Roddick in the deciding rubber of the match against the U.S. And the head of the French Davis Cup organization publicly stated his disappointment. Gasquet had apparently assured the team that he’d be available for the Roddick match if needed then he backed out.

I think the answer is unstable because Gasquet played a disastrously loose game while serving to stay in the second set a 4-5. He failed to get a first serve in and he hit three errors to hand the second set to Querrey. And he did it again in the third set. Serving at 3-4, he hit two forehand errors and a double fault to go down a break to let Querrey serve for the match. Gasquet’s got some worries on his mind and he may be getting some unfair treatment because his back is hurting him. He said he was taking anti-inflammation medicine in his post-match media session and he also said he was tired because he hasn’t been able to practice enough.

Maybe his Davis Cup cohorts are being too hard on him but now he has a problem because the perception is that he could have played and didn’t. There was already grumbling last year when he withdrew from his second round match at the U.S. Open with a fever. The more the perception grows, the more he’ll have to do to overcome it and the more expectations there’ll be which is the last thing he needs. No wonder he said, after the match, that he needed to get away from tennis for a few days

Querrey won the match, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3, and I love the way he played. It’s not just his willingness to love the clay and play to his strengths while covering up his weaknesses – which is the definition of good match play, it’s the calm he showed throughout. You can now officially include me in the Sam Querrey fan club.