NEW YORK -- Life is rich for Sam Querrey right now. He's the Donald Trump of the ATP -- not in terms of his bank account but his astute personnel choices.
Querrey hired 20-year-old pal and aspiring sports and entertainment lawyer Dan Farrugia as an intern this summer, promising him 3 percent of his prize money in return for personal services, including wrapping grips, fetching sandwiches, fulfilling ticket requests and even reserving a private jet to whisk Querrey from Indianapolis to Los Angeles following the Indy final last month. (Farrugia later talked Querrey out of the splurge, citing budgetary concerns after Querrey lost to Robby Ginepri.)
Since acquiring a right-hand man, Querrey has reached the final in four of the six events he's played, winning one, and finished first in the U.S. Open Series points race for his performance on the summer hard-court circuit.
He collects a bonus with every match he wins at the U.S. Open -- ringing up $40,000 for his second-round victory over tenacious fellow American Kevin Kim on Thursday -- thereby fattening the balance for both himself and Farrugia. Querrey will next play 12th seed and French Open finalist Robin Soderling of Sweden, who has beaten him in both of their previous meetings.
Farrugia is headed back to Cornell University at the end of this season, leaving Querrey bereft. "Maybe I'll make it an annual thing," Querrey said in a video interview posted on the ATP site, and added that he might pitch a television program modeled on "The Apprentice."
Querrey, 21, was regarded as a bit of an intern himself in his first two seasons as a pro -- a charmingly loose yet obviously talented understudy to American veterans Andy Roddick, James Blake and Mardy Fish, and a frequent practice partner on the U.S. Davis Cup team who got his first chance to crack the starting lineup when Blake was hurt last year. Before Querrey faced Roddick in Cincinnati this summer, he admitted he had to fight the tendency to be overly respectful when he plays the older Americans who once took him under their wings.
Still, Querrey's days as a trainee may have officially ended. He became the second-highest-ranked U.S. player behind Roddick for the first time this week, slotting in at No. 22, one notch above Blake. Querrey is 41-22 in 2009, and 22-5 starting with the grass-court event in Newport, R.I., in July, which coincides with Farrugia's hiring.
Querrey, whose U.S. matches are enlivened by a colorful group of fans who call themselves "the Samurai," said he "willed my way through" difficult stretches of his four-set win over Kim. "You know, I had a lot of tough matches this summer that I got through," he said. "That kind of reflects and helps when you get into a four- or five-setter here. I'm very confident. Every win just builds my confidence that much more. I made four finals this summer. I played a lot of pressure-situation matches.
"There's not a ball that I'm not getting to that I think I should be getting to. It's strength now. I think there's a few other things. The return of serve still can get a lot better. My decision-making on the court can still improve a little bit. I think I can sneak into the net a little bit more. I could be a little smarter with how I use my serve and my first-serve percentage."
Analyst and four-time Grand Slam winner Jim Courier said Querrey is on schedule.
"It's about the right time for his game to take the next step," Courier said. "He had his first [full] year as a pro [in 2007], and then the next season everyone gets a second look at you and you have to adjust and cover your weaknesses better.
"Sam has one really important thing you need to succeed, and that's weaponry with his forehand and serve. He's come some distance in fitness and speed, speed being the real separator among the top men right now."
Querrey turned pro around his 19th birthday, which isn't unusual, but through his teens he was a part-time player who graduated from a public high school in his hometown of Thousand Oaks, Calif. "He was a late starter," Courier said. "If you subscribe to [author] Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000-hour theory -- that you have to spend that much time doing something to be exceptional -- he's still catching up to his peer group."
Bob and Mike Bryan have had a front-row seat to watch Querrey mature through their Davis Cup experiences. "He's the same guy, a jokester, just a lot better on court," Bob Bryan said. "He's turning into a champion before our eyes. He's moving awesome. He looks like a top-10er."
This isn't the first time Querrey's career has been marked by some unconventional creativity. As ESPN.com contributor Sandra Harwitt first reported last March, Querrey's father, Mike, a mortgage banker, designed a plan whereby private investors sponsored Querrey in return for a share of his prize money.
Perhaps fittingly, Querrey and 17-year-old Melanie Oudin -- who toppled fourth seed Elena Dementieva Thursday -- rang the opening bell on the NASDAQ exchange last Monday. Querrey isn't a start-up company anymore, but his stock is certainly rising. He'll probably have his pick of applicants if he advertises an internship for 2010. Whether or not someone follows Querrey around with a camera, he's one of the best reality shows in the game.
Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.