Why tennis needs more trash talk, and whose serve he most wants to take to the face.
Sam Querrey has a been a professional tennis player for ten years. There's a good chance you may have only learned his name recently, when he took down the seemingly unbeatable #1 tennis player in the world Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon. (There's also a not-bad chance you still don't know who Sam Querrey is.) At the time of Querrey's improbable victory (not even he thought he could be Djokovic), Novak had won a record-setting 30 straight Grand Slam matches and was the reigning champion of all four Grand Slam tournaments (US Open, Australian Open, Wimbledon, and French Open). Querrey went on to the quarterfinals of Wimbledon, where, even though he lost, it was his best finish ever in a Grand Slam and gave him a star moment he'd yet to really have. (He even got his own GQ shoot!) He starts his US Open run today, so we called him to find out more about the dude behind the dude who beat Novak Djokovic.
This must have been a wild last couple of weeks. What has it been—a month now since the Djokovic match?
It’s been like five weeks. It has kind of died down now, but the two weeks after Wimbledon were pretty fun, and I definitely had more on my calendar than normal.
Did it feel like a championship run almost? You’ve blown up but it’s not like you’re new on the scene…
Right after that match, one of the ladies was like, “Now this is a nice jumpstart to your career.” I was like, “God, it’s my tenth Wimbledon.” I didn’t win the tournament, but I almost felt like I came in second in a way because there was so much hype around it. You can make the quarters and not beat anyone ranked in the top twenty—or you could do it and beat Novak. It’s like two different tournaments. So it was probably the most memorable tennis experience in my life.
You've said that before that match, if you’re being truly honest, you weren’t expecting to beat him. True?
Definitely before the match. As the match went on, I started to gain more and more belief. But you know, sports guys will always say, “I thought I could beat him," but I think people just say that because that’s the right answer. You don’t want to ever say, “Ah, I don’t think I can beat this guy.” But I think deep down in sports that happens a lot. You know when the Browns are going to play the Patriots. Do they really think they’re going to win?
The match was delayed by a couple of rain delays. What do you guys do during rain delays in the locker room?
The first rain delay was overnight, so we went home. But then the next day we had three rain delays, but two of them were for like ten minutes, so out near Court One, they had these little waiting rooms. It’s almost like a creepy doctor’s office you just sit in alone. And then one of the rain delays was probably like an hour. I went back to the locker room, and everyone was messing around. We played like trivia games and stuff.
"Sports guys will always say, “I thought I could beat him," but I think people just say that because that’s the right answer. You don’t want to ever say, “Ah, I don’t think I can beat this guy.” But I think deep down in sports that happens a lot. "
And when you guys go back, aren’t you in the same locker room?
At Wimbledon, everyone in the top 32 in the world is in one locker room. And everyone else is in another locker room. But outside of that tournament, like US Open, everyone is in the same locker room. But the locker rooms are big enough that you’re not right on top of a guy. At that point there wasn’t that many guys left in the tournament, so you’re not sitting on a bench right next to them. So he’s on the other side of the locker room. I’m on my side.
What did Djokovic say to you at the net after you beat him?
I don’t remember exactly, but he was just super complimentary, so nice. “Hey, well done. You played great. Congratulations. I’m happy for you.” Stuff like that. And he seemed very sincere and very genuine.
You tennis players are always so friendly to each other. Is there ever any trash talking?
There’s really not, honestly. Every guy in the top 100 is pretty nice. There’s definitely a few guys where you’re like, “He’s not my favorite.” But you’re not going to be talking shit to him during the match or in the locker room or anything. And honestly, I think that’s one of the things that hurts tennis, too; why it’s not as popular as it was in the ’70s when you had Borg and McEnroe, guys that actually hated each other. Sports is great when you have real rivalries of guys that hate each other, like McGregor and Diaz. They look like they want the other one to die.
Going further back: The media likes to tell this story about how you skipped college to turn pro because your dad was a baseball player, opted for college over the majors, and regrets it.
That story gets blown out of proportion a little bit. So he went to the University of Arizona back in the day and played baseball and then was drafted by the Detroit Tigers and then opted not to go. I think AA, AAA, the grind of the minor leagues didn’t really appeal to him. He had just married my mom. It was a little different time. A different generation.
So for me, he definitely had a little influence on that because we talked about, “Hey, you know I didn’t take that opportunity when I was young.” I think he kind of regrets that a little bit. But when I was 18, I was much better at tennis than he was at baseball. I won some challenges. I got a lucrative Adidas contract. So I had money that was offered to me. It wasn’t just like, “Hey, here’s $12,000. Go live in Iowa and play AA baseball for the summer.”
Do you remember the first thing you purchased with that money?
[laughs] I got a Range Rover like a schmuck and put rims on it. I was the annoying white kid in Thousand Oaks, California, with a Range Rover with rims.
So who was the first big-time opponent you faced, where you can remember being like, “This is a big deal?”
When I was 19, I played Roger Federer at the Miami tournament in the second round in a night match. And Tiger Woods was there. That was a match I knew, "Okay, I’m not going to win this. I don’t want to get embarrassed. Hopefully it’s fun and it’s going to be something enjoyable."
And how nervous were you on a scale of 1-10?
I wasn’t overly nervous. I’d practiced with him before. And at that time, I had almost played a year of tournaments, of tour events. So I had played some other guys ranked in the top 20, 25. But when you’re playing Federer, when the announcer does the introductions: This 19-year-old from California has won two Challenger titles and has a career-high ranking of 70. Now, 13x Grand Slam champion… It takes like three minutes to read off his accomplishments.
How did you play?
I played okay. I think I lost 6-3, 6-3, or 6-3, 6-4. But Federer is so nice. He’s not someone to beat someone like 6-1, 6-0. Even when he was in his prime, he never embarrassed guys too much. Occasionally, Nadal in early play could beat guys like 6-1, 6-0, 6-0.
So you think he could have beat you worse, and he just didn’t?
I just think the urgency wasn’t there. I think he went into that match saying, “I’m going to beat this guy. Maybe I might serve and volley a little more. I might work on a few things. I might entertain the crowd a little bit.” He was an entertainer for sure. So I think he thinks about things like that.
Here’s a quote from a piece I was reading yesterday. “With an average speed of 123 miles per hour yesterday, it’s certainly not the fastest”—talking about your serve—“but Querrey could take an apple off the top of a boy’s head.” Do you think you could actually do that? Would you feel confident taking an apple—
Absolutely not. No. No one would.
Nobody on tour?
No one would ever try that, or is that accurate, or that confident. I mean if you put a cone out on the court and gave me six to eight serves, I think I could hit the cone, and I think most guys could say that. But if you’re like, “One shot to hit the cone, life or death,” most guys aren’t going to hit it.
Okay fine. But if you had to take one person, men’s or women’s, and they had to do it off your head, who are you picking?
I’m probably picking Nadal, because he honestly doesn’t hit a serve that hard. He kind of just spins it in. He has the highest first serve percentage on tour, and probably hits it at like 107.
So you’re kind of going with the, “I’m going to get hit in the face. I might as well just"—
Definitely. There’s no one on tour I would trust to do that to me. So I’m just purely going with the guy who hits it the softest. I’m finding the 5’5” guy that has no power.
Were you watching the epic, 11-hour long match he had against Nicolas Mahut in 2010?
I watched for a little bit during one of the days, but when he finally finished, I was playing my second or maybe even my third round match already. I was on Court One at Wimbledon playing Ivan Dodig, and they flashed his score up. And my court stopped and everyone clapped for 30 seconds because the match finally ended.
Did you talk to him at all during it?
Yeah, we texted at night and stuff. Because we were actually playing doubles at Wimbledon that year. He pulled out [of doubles] and lost next round [in singles]. I mean his toes were all blistered up and disgusting.
What were you guys talking about when you were texting? Was he just like, “Man, this match is taking forever”?
God. That was like six years ago. I honestly don’t remember. We don’t talk about tennis that often. It was probably about Fantasy Football.
And you mentioned having them flashing the score on your court. Are you guys just completely locked in out there, or are you, especially with the spectators so close, aware of things that are happening in the crowd around you?
You’re aware. When you’re at Wimbledon at one of those big courts, every changeover on the scoreboard, they flash the other court scores around. So you got a friend out there or something, you can’t help but look up and see if there’s an upset going. You don’t think about it when you’re out there playing, but on that 75-second changeover, sometimes it’s good to take your mind off the match. I’ll look around the crowd, make eye contract with my friends, my girlfriend, my parents, my sister.
What is on your pre-game, pre-match playlist? All Taylor Swift or just some Taylor Swift?
No. You know it kind of changes all the time. Whatever is the top-ten hits of the week is, I’m pretty much going with that. But I’m a big Drake fan. I’ve been getting into a lot of rap lately. I like Drake. I like Future. I like Young Thug.
Does your samurai fan club still show up at your games?
No. From the time I was 18 to 21 or 22, it was like my best friends from high school. And this was back when they had summers or spring break off and they could come to some tournaments. They just wanted to get drunk and act like idiots. They would take their shirts off. They’d paint stuff on their chest, they’d bring in T-shirt guns and air horns. And some of the other players didn’t like it, and they would get in trouble. It was great, but once they graduated college and had to get jobs, it was tough to be like, “Hey, come to New York for eight days and act like an idiot.”