By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com
PARIS, France - It might surprise his fans that Sam Querrey's goal entering Roland Garros was to win a single match, but that's exactly what it was as he had never been able to shake his foe's hand at the net with a smile on his face before Tuesday, when he took down the capable Phillip Kohlschreiber 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 in the first round.
This is the same Querrey who won a red clay tournament in Belgrade last year and who is seeded No. 24. But a mediocre season has made him a realist and the last thing he wanted to do after an admittedly uninspired defeat to Robby Ginepri in 2010, he wasn't going to come into press after the win and say that he was ready to stun the world and take the title, but he does see signs of hope.
"Last year I was just a little tapped out," he said. "I just went home and didn't do anything for like six days and came back and won Queen's, fourth round of Wimbledon, won L.A., so came back strong. This year I'm feeling good. And I have enjoyed playing in Europe and playing the last three weeks. I'm just staying positive."
The tall Santa Monica resident usually rolls with the punches, which is why he was able to knock out Kohlschreiber even though he was 1-5 on clay coming into the match and his only victory was in Rome when Kevin Anderson retired after the first set. But he thought he played well in a loss to Nicolas Almagro in Rome and was especially pleased that he pushed two-time Roland Garros finalist Robin Soderling to a third set tiebreaker last week in Düsseldorf.
"This is my first win at Roland Garros, so, that was really exciting," he said. "My goal this year was to win one round, because I have never done that. I thought I played great. Even though this year hasn't been great, I feel like I'm playing well and working hard, an hopefully things can turn around and I can start winning more matches. Everyone has some ups and downs, but my confidence is pretty high. I think I could do well at this tournament and then beyond that."
The United States men have been lacking a consistent second week threat in Paris since Andre Agassi retired in 2005 and this year, the U.S.'s long time top player, Andy Roddick, has been forced to miss the event with a shoulder injury. After John Isner went down to Rafa Nadal in five sets on Tuesday, only Querrey and Mardy Fish remain. Both on Thursday, with Querrey taking on Ivan Ljubicic (ironically the same guy who took out Fish 10 -8 in the fifth set last year) and Fish going up against Robin Haase.
"Mardy, John and myself, we all really like clay," Querrey said. "We've had some good results on it. Maybe not here, but hopefully that will change this year. I think we can all make a run here. And, hopefully we can have two or three guys like we had at the [U.S.] Open in the round of 16."
That might look like tall order from the outside, but neither Ljubicic or Haase are great clay court players either and while the Americans would be the underdogs if they have to confront potential seeded foes Fernando Verdasco and Gilles Simon in the third round, those victories are not impossible either.
Querrey grew up on Las Vegas and Southern California hard courts, but he does work out at the USTA's West Coast Training Center in Carson, California, which has clay courts. Movement is one of his weaknesses or dirt, but his 6-foot-6 inch frame allows him to take high bouncing balls into his wheelhouse.
"I always have liked clay," he said. "I feel comfortable playing on it. It gives me a little more time to set up on my forehand. I'm comfortable sliding to the backhand, not to the forehand, but you don't need to slide to every ball. I feel like I'm a pretty good athlete and I can move around on it."
Almost every victory can be had in theory, and the aging former top five player Ljubicic is an opponent that Querrey can hit through, if he's dead on the ball and not mentally going in and out of the match. The American has a game plan in mind and if he can pull off the win, he can put the depressing thoughts of 2010 Roland Garros behind him.
"It's gonna be tough," Querrey said. "He's got a great one hander. If you don't pound the ball to his backhand, if he's got a ball, he could step up and strike on his backhand. He could really pull you off the court. Hopefully, I can make a lot of first serves and play like I did today and try to see as many forehands as I can, because my forehand is feeling great right now."