Sam Querrey remembers a moment in his hotel at the 2007 Australian Open, when he was a 19-year-old first embarking on his professional career. When he walked into the elevator, World No. 1 Roger Federer was there.
“I remember he introduced himself to me. He said, ‘Hey Sam, Roger, welcome to the Tour’, something along those lines. ‘It’s good to see you here’,” Querrey remembered. “It was pretty cool for a guy like that to come up to a new player like myself.”
It was a pinch-me moment for the teenage Querrey, a recognition of his arrival on the circuit. More than a decade later, following his first-round loss at the US Open against Ilya Ivashka, the American’s illustrious career has come to a close.
Querrey retires having lifted 10 ATP Tour singles trophies, climbed to a career-high No. 11 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings and earned 23 victories against Top 10 opponents.
“My body is getting a little tired. I’ve been at the US Open since 2006. I’ve got two little kids. I want to go do something else,” Querrey said. “I want to test my mind somewhere else and try something new. It feels like this is the right time.”
The Californian turned professional in 2006 and never looked back. From those early days, those around Querrey knew he was bound for success. Countryman Steve Johnson remembers his friend was a local star as a junior.
“He was always somebody that every kid my age or younger looked up to. He was always the best in Southern California. He was the best growing up,” Johnson said. “You always looked to Sam as somebody who was not only a great junior tennis player and a great tennis player, but he was always fun to be around. He always had a smile. He was always just somebody we all looked up to.”
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Querrey first cracked the Top 100 the week after he met Federer in January 2007 and claimed his first ATP Tour title in Las Vegas in 2008. At 6’6”, his powerful game quickly proved tough for players of all levels to deal with.
But in September 2009, everything changed. In Bangkok, he sat on a glass table to tie his sneaker and fell through it. A piece of glass was lodged his arm and ripped a muscle.
“Luckily it missed the nerve,” Querrey recalled. “I had surgery, recovered, regrouped and 2010 was one of my best years. Fortunately that’s behind me and I was able to recover in an even better way and was basically injury-free for the better part of my career.”
Querrey missed the rest of 2009, but it could have been much worse. Instead, the American forged ahead and continued to improve. Some of his best tennis did not come until the late 2010s.
One tournament in particular showed that Querrey could mow down even the most talented players on the ATP Tour. At Acapulco in 2017, he defeated Kyle Edmund, David Goffin, Dominic Thiem, Nick Kyrgios and Rafael Nadal to lift the trophy. His coach at the time, Craig Boynton, remembers the tournament fondly as an example of Querrey in full flight.
“You’d have to have something freakish to be able to compete with him when he was in full flight. He just completely took the racquet out of your hands. Massive serve, big forehand, backhand got a lot better. Return of serve [was good], very athletic. Sneaky good at net. Good touch,” Boynton said. “It was just like poetry in motion watching him play. It was so much fun. He was so offensive and deceptively quick. A lot of fun.”
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Johnson, who is competing with Querrey in doubles at the US Open (Querrey’s final event), has seen what his friend is capable of up close and personal.
“In my eyes, Sam’s got one of the best serves, maybe in the history of tennis. He’s definitely in my Top 5, Top 10 in history,” Johnson said. “He’s got a huge forehand, he’s got this imposing game… he’s got all the intangibles you’d ever want in a tennis player.”
On top of his Acapulco championship win against Nadal, Querrey reached the Wimbledon semi-finals in 2017 and three additional major quarter-finals. He earned two victories against each of Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka.
“It’s been amazing. To play in an era with Novak, Roger and Rafa is pretty crazy. Usually you don’t have the three greatest players ever — and it’s not really an argument they are the three greatest players ever, I think. To have them in the same generation is pretty crazy,” Querrey said. “It’s been an incredible run for them and to be part of that week-in and week-out has been pretty cool and to play them all a handful of times has been great and when you play those guys, you play them on the biggest stages at the Grand Slams, on the centre court, so those are amazing experiences and to be lucky enough to win a couple times is pretty cool.”
As much of a mark his serves and forehands left on the court, his relaxed and light-natured demeanour off the court have also made an impact. Boynton said he is “really sad” Querrey will no longer be on Tour.
“I’m happy for him because he’s happy. If you don’t know Sam Querrey then I would say get to know him. He is just a genuinely nice, very welcoming, funny, funny individual. I absolutely look back on the time that we were together fondly,” Boynton said. “I told him that I miss him. I miss him, I miss his stories, I miss his personality. He always made me laugh. He’s just a one-in-a-million type of guy, maybe a one-in-ten-billion type of guy. They just don’t come any better than Sam Querrey.”
Querrey is not leaving his tennis family behind, though. In fact, later this year his family and Johnson’s family are going on holiday together. As proud as he is of what he is accomplished on the court, the lifelong friendships he has made rank highly, too.
“I feel I was pretty consistent over the years. I only missed a couple of majors over a 17-year run. I was a pretty good big-match player. I feel like the better the opponent, the better I played and had some great wins,” Querrey said. “I feel like I have great relationships with all the other male players, all the female players, the tournament directors and they are people who will be in my life and people I can call friends forever. I’m proud of that as well.”