When the lights go up in Rock Creek Park on July 28, the tennis world will learn a new name: Citi Open, the tournament formerly known as the Legg Mason Tennis Classic. Since 1969 the tournament has attracted some of the top players in tennis, including household names like Connors, Chang, Agassi and Roddick. It also brings a host of contenders: world-class tennis players whose names are well-known only among the most hardcore of fans, but whose talents and dedication have propelled them to the elite ranks of the ATP World Tour.
Sam Querrey is just such an athlete. The 24 year-old native Californian has finished the past five seasons ranked in the ATP’s Top 100, and in early 2011 was ranked 17th before undergoing an elbow surgery that kept him out of Wimbledon and the US Open.
His injury healed, Sam wasted no time in climbing back up in the ranks, and currently sits at 63. Querrey spoke with On Tap while resting up for his next match in the AEGON International in Eastbourne, U.K. against fellow American and former World No. 1 Andy Roddick.
On Tap: Tomorrow you go up against Andy Roddick. Are you making any special preparations for the match?
Sam Querrey: You really have to prepare for each match the same, no matter who the opponent is. I stick with the same routine, just get the body loose and ready to play.
OT: Do you have any pre-match superstitions?
SQ: It might be more of a quirk, but before each match I always take off the old grips from my racquets and replace them.
OT: Sports fans love a good rivalry; are there any players you love (or hate) to play?
SQ: There’s not much of a rivalry; all of the American guys – Roddick, John Isner, James Blake, etc. – we all do a great job of pushing and challenging each other. You want to match each other’s success; we all want each other to climb as high in the rankings as possible.
OT: How is the camaraderie amongst the players?
SQ: Most of the pranks go on at the Davis Cup when it’s a team situation, between our team of four or five guys and our practice partners. During tournaments it’s friendly, but you tend to go about your business.
OT: How did you get your start playing tennis?
SQ: I was five years old, and my family became members of a small tennis club in Santa Rosa, Northern California. I took some lessons, played in some of their clinics, and grew up playing tennis.
OT: Is your family still active in tennis?
SQ: My parents used to play on weekends, and my mom is still playing – but it’s been a few years since we’ve hit tennis balls together.
OT: Who are/were your sports heroes?
SQ: I’m a huge Tom Brady fan, and growing up I always loved baseball- so I was a big Dodgers fan.
OT: What other sports did you play?
SQ: Pretty much everything – baseball, basketball, soccer, golf; I even played a year of football.
OT: When did you decide you wanted to play tennis professionally?
SQ: At 15, I was better at tennis than any other sport, so I started thinking about a college scholarship. I had some success in junior tournaments, and by the time I was 18 I’d won three titles in the ATP Challenger Tour. That got the attention of some agents, and three months before I was set to start school at USC, I turned professional.
OT: At what point did you realize you had made it, so to speak?
SQ: I was pretty fortunate; within six or seven months I’d made it into the top 100, and climbed up the rankings pretty quickly.
OT: Are there any lessons you learned in your first year after turning pro?
SQ: You have to get used to being away from home a lot; you spend a good part of the year in Europe, and you miss out on things back home, like the NBA and NHL championships. On the other hand, you do learn to enjoy traveling overseas.
OT: What do you love most about playing tennis?
SQ: With tennis, we’re really fortunate in the places where we get to play: Melbourne, Madrid, Paris, London, New York, Shanghai – it’s definitely a perk.
OT: Where is your favorite place to play?
SQ: I love playing in Los Angeles; it’s where I grew up, and it’s a chance to see my friends and family; apart from that, the US Open and Wimbledon.
OT: With all that travel, how do you keep in shape?
SQ: I don’t have any hard and fast rules, really – I just tend to eat healthy, and drink tons of water. I’m not too picky; whether it’s before or after a match I’ll eat sushi, chicken, steak, Indian, or Italian – but if I could go anyplace off the court? It would definitely be a good sushi restaurant.
OT: What is your workout routine like?
SQ: On the off-weeks, I’ll do some running or weight-lifting in the gym, but during tournaments it’s light; at most you’ll work out for a bit of a touch-up.
OT: What excites you about coming to play in DC?
SQ: I’ve played in DC three times or so, so I’ve already seen most of the sights. Still it’s one of the most fun cities we go to; the matches are held later in the evening, so the crowds are packed in, and they really get into the matches.
OT: Thank you for talking with us tonight; now it’s shout-out time: are there any coaches or mentors whom you’d like to mention?
SQ: My coach for the last three years, David Nainkin at the USTA; he’s been huge, really a monumental part of my success.
This year, On Tap will host a bus trip to the Semifinals of the Citi Open on the evening of Saturday, August 4. The trip will include a Happy Hour at BlackFinn DC, round-trip transportation, tickets to the Citi Open, and access to the Corona Beach House. Tickets are available online at www.store.ontaponline.com.