NEW YORK – Lunging desperately at the little yellow ball they were eyeball-to-eyeball at the net for their last swings of the day. The witnesses, about 15,000 of them in Arthur Ashe Stadium , were screaming, urging — most of them in the corner of the young Californian, Sam Querrey.
Make the shot and hang into this fifth set melodrama on the blue pavement – or go home, downcast though knowing you’d gone right down to the US Open’s quarter-final wire. That was the bang-bang proposition for Querrey after dodging one match point.
But there was another to come as he served the second ball. And going after that ball on a chip-and-charge mission was the husky Swiss, Stanislaus Wawrinka. It happened so fast, this conclusion of a rousing 4 ½ hour collision, that for an instant the two of them didn’t seem to realize it was over.
In came Wawrinka behind a sliced return – – a guy whose brilliant one-handed backhand comes in several flavors. Quickly Quarrey responded by advancing to cut off his foe’s volley only to blink as he watched Wawrinka’s second volley land beyond his reach.
In an encounter tighter than a Sports Illustrated swim suit, the Open’s best match thus far, the result went to the 25 year old 6-footer from St, Barthelemy, Switzerland:
7-6 (11-9), 6-7 (5-7), 7-5, 4-6, 6-4.
You possibly recall the helpful Wawrinka carrying a countryman to the Olympic gold medal in doubles at Beijing, fellow named Federer. Now they can rejoice that he and Federer are both in the singles quarters, the first time that Switzerland has placed two men so high in a major.
Good for them. But with Querrey falling the American male effort is looking a little poverty-stricken. As he, Long John Isner and Mardy Fish were locked out of the quarters, the US for the second straight year draws a blank in the last eight.
They will need all the help they can get as the US invades Colombia Sept. 17 – 19 in a Davis Cup tie that will determine American fate next year. Having lost to Serbia earlier this year, the Americans could also lose their world group position in defeat at Bogota, a tough challenge with clay courts, altitude (8,678 feet) and possibly a hostile audience. That would mean relegation, a plunge to the boonies. That last happened in 1987.
Querrey says he and his teammates are very anxious to avoid that happening, and realize the Colombians are no pushovers. Their No. 1, Alejandro Falla came within two points of beating Federer at Wimbledon.
“A couple of points here and there was the difference today,” Querrey said accurately. “I was pretty sad in the lockerroom for a while. A fifth set is an entity all to itself. I think I had break points at the beginning of the fifth. I really can’t remember.”
He did. Three of them in the second game that might have changed everything. But Wawrinka served big and was a forehand menace in escaping to 2-1.
Sam couldn’t get anything out of three break points in the third game of the match, or a set point in the first tie-breaker. Still, he was serving heavy (19 aces, nine service winners) along the way. And so was the Swiss (16 aces, five service winners.). Despite his height (6-6) the long-legged Querrey, ranked No. 20, was moving as well as No. 25 Wawrinka. They had to because the shotmaking was fierce and deep.
Sam did remember, “two shots I’m a little bummed about. Simple volleys that cost me the last game of the third set. The first one was kind of tough, with the wind behind it, but the second was inexcusable.”
Your 10-year-old could have made them – but maybe not in Ashe Stadium with a crowd accompaniment and the treacherous breezes that haunt the arena.
At 23, Querrey has won four titles this year, and is looking solid, although he needs volleying work.
His backhand passer gave Sam the break to 4-3 in the fourth set. But Wawrinka fought through a 15 minute, six deuce, four set point game to keep the set alive. However, Sam’s ace on the last set point sent them into the fatal fifth.
Sam’s nifty lob ducked a break point to 3-3. Another high-riser saved a first match point. It was one of the thousands of pokes the man from Thousand Oaks swatted at Wawrinka.
“But,” he said, “I felt my serve let me down a little at the end. Those crucial moments you’re going to be a little more nervous, and it’s a little tougher to get the first serve in. Sometimes I made it, sometimes I didn’t. You know, nerves creep in for anyone.”
He came oh so close, but the last Yank was yanked. You’ve heard of Swiss chard. This time Querrey got Swiss-charred.