Queen’s serves up unexpected but classy American final
With a draw that boasted three of the top four players in the world, the final line-up at the Aegon Championships may not have been the one anticipated.
Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray fell in the third round and Rafael Nadal only reached the quarter-finals.
What the tournament did get, however, was a match-up between two near-perfect exponents of old-fashioned grass court tennis in a fitting conclusion to a competition where the serve and volley, the sliced backhand, and confident all-court movement paid dividends.
Perhaps the weather played a part: the damp, cool conditions kept the ball low and the grass slick. So the big hitting, net-attacking style of Feliciano Lopez, the elegant serve and volley game of Michael Llodra, and the nimble all court skills of Dudi Sela took each of them deep into the tournament.
But the last men standing combined the best of all of these. The final was an all-American affair, pitting the big serve and powerful forehand of Sam Querrey against the outstanding serve and volley technique of Mardy Fish.
It was an interesting match not only for the styles of tennis that each player employed but also for the stories each brought with them. Good friends, same coach, and gentle, generous personalities. Querrey, 22, is a rising star of American tennis while Fish is a newly-shining one.
Querrey, the seventh seed, has steadily improved throughout 2010, combining one of the best serves on the Tour with a mighty forehand and surprisingly good mobility for such a tall man. What’s more, he has won indoors and on clay already this year and could become the first in 2010 to win on three difference surfaces.
He dropped just one set ahead of the final but did not face a seed in the entire tournament.
When Fish took a long hard look at his career after knee surgery following the US Open last year, he decided he was not ready to draw a line under his tennis career. He lost 25 pounds and, at 28 years old, has come back fitter and faster than ever. As a result, the unseeded Fish became the standout player at Queen’s, taking out three seeds and dropping just one set to Murray on his way to the final.
On balance, then, his sparkling tennis and footwork looked favourite to win.
As expected, the match was played at an appropriately high speed. Both served quickly, both played forward-moving, attacking rallies and -even better -neither wasted time between serves and games. It was like a throwback to the early years of the Open era when towels stayed on chairs rather than decorating the back of the court.
Things sped to a tiebreak in the first set, but Querrey held his cool the better, producing great serves and playing some lovely touch volleys to take the set. And he immediately threw down the gauntlet in the second set with an opening service game of four aces in just 38 seconds.
Fish responded with a love service game of his own and the momentum moved in his favour as he went on to break Querrey in the fifth game.
He looked placed to take the set when serving at 5-4, but made four uncharacteristic unforced errors to give Querrey the break back. The match seemed certain to head into another tie-breaker, but Fish’s nerves, combined with some confident and neat net play from Querrey, brought a second break and a 7-6 7-5 victory for the younger man.
Querrey is now set to hit the top 20 for the first time and must surely be a contender for a top 10 place before very long.
It takes big, strong arms to lift the Aegon trophy -surely the biggest cup on the Tour -and Querrey has such arms, and a game to match. He continues to improve and to mature with each month, and the grass of Wimbledon, for which his game is made, might well see his biggest breakthrough thus far.