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Is It Finally Safe to Be Excited for an American Men’s Tennis Player?

Sam Querrey has done what no American man has done since 2011

Getty Images
Getty Images

Last week, American tennis player Sam Querrey did the unthinkable: He knocked off steely Robo-Djoker 5000 in a third-round match at Wimbledon, snapping the Serbian’s streak of 30 straight Grand Slam match victories. Then, on Monday, he did something nearly as astounding: Querrey continued his conquest of Wimbledon by eliminating fourth-round opponent Nicolas Mahut in straight sets. And now, with a quarterfinal against no. 6 ranked Milos Raonic looming, suddenly the question has become: Is it finally time to get excited about an American men’s tennis player again?

The United States Tennis Association has been wringing its hands about the dearth of men’s stars for years. For all the blinding success of Serena Williams, or the Bryan brothers in doubles, it’s been a while since there was a male U.S. singles player to rally around. The last American victory at the ATP World Tour Finals was in 1999; the last Grand Slam victory came in 2003. John Isner — at no. 17, currently the highest ranked American — has never come close to a Grand Slam trophy. The numbers have been run before, but they’re no less staggering today: In June 1986, there were 18 Americans in the top 50. Today, there are four; which is especially bleak compared with the dominance of other countries: consider Spain, which has eight players in the top 50, or France, which has seven. We’ve been conditioned to expect failure from would-be saviors of American tennis: The buildup; the long, fawning profiles; the magazine covers and exclusive interviews. And then, well … it just doesn’t work out.

Which brings us to Querrey, 28, who will be playing in his first Grand Slam quarterfinal, and the first for any American man since the 2011 U.S. Open. Should he survive the quarterfinals Wednesday, Querrey will face either Roger Federer or Marin Cilic; from there, no. 2 seed Andy Murray, who had yet to lose a set at Wimbledon heading into his own quarterfinal match against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, likely awaits in the finals. So is Querrey the answer to our — or, perhaps more pointedly, USTA’s — prayers? Is the Djokovic slayer the superstar we’ve been promised?

Probably not. Querrey will almost certainly not be the one to lead U.S. men’s tennis back to the land of plenty. He does not have age on his side, having slipped to 41st from his career-high no. 17 ranking in 2011. His match with Djokovic was unusual, to say the least: It had three separate rain delays, which visibly threw Djokovic off his rhythm, especially against a 6-foot-6 giant who throws haymaker serves. Unfortunately for Querrey, his quarterfinals opponent is just as big, with a serve that is even more rocket-like.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy America’s best — if not exactly promising — hope while he’s on one of tennis’s most illustrious stages. This, after all, is the professional tennis player who gifted us with this:

He has a Tom Hackettish way with words: He has been open about his delight in rushing to his hotel after his victory over Djokovic to rewatch the highlights. “I’m not going to lie,” he said. “I watched every highlight I could over and over. Enjoyed the hell out of that moment.”

Querrey is also a delight to watch. A big server, he is known for keeping his cool in matches: He flips his racket between points; during the rain delays in his match against Djokovic — undisputably the highest stakes of his career — he took to playing with golf putters in the locker room.

So, for all the American flag emoji that appeared on Twitter after he upset Djokovic, Querrey probably will not be the one to end U.S. men’s Grand Slam drought. But you could do a lot worse than watching him Wednesday on Wimbledon’s No. 1 Court.