When he was growing up in California, Sam Querrey marked himself as a guy with a chance to play at the ultimate level. He had that classic American combination: a thumping serve and a forehand to go with it.
He reached the junior quarterfinals at the US Open in 2004 and, in 2005, at Roland Garros. A year later, at the age of 19, Querrey passed on a full scholarship at the University of Southern California in order to turn professional.
And though he has had a nice career, reaching as high as a No. 17 ranking among ATP World Tour players three years ago, he has repeatedly crashed into a not-so-glass ceiling at the Grand Slams.
This Australian Open is his 28th major and he has yet to crack the quarterfinals. At the age of 26, this would be a good time to change that karma. On Friday in Melbourne, he plays No. 15-seeded Fabio Fognini of Italy in a third-round match.
"With my game and confidence I have, I really like my chances to make the fourth round," Querrey said after a forceful win over No. 23-seeded Ernests Gulbis on Wednesday.
Querrey wrecked Gulbis, a legitimate player when he's dialed in. The score was 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 and it was over in 97 minutes. Querrey has 43 aces over the first two rounds -- first among all players with play heading into its fourth day.
In other words, vintage Querrey.
When he's going well, the aces pile up quickly. He finished third in 2009 with 739 aces and fourth (709) a year later before surgery on his right elbow truncated his 2011 season. He was third in 2012 (705) and sixth last year (576).
Overall, however, 2013 was a washout for Querrey, who saw his year-end ranking droop to No. 46.
He parted ways with his fiancée, suffered some distracting injuries -- an abdominal pull near the end of the season was particularly costly -- and there were times when he didn't always seem to care enough about truly excelling in the sport. His coach, David Nankin, has said Querrey only recently has learned that he needs to put in "the nine yards" if he's going to succeed against the best players.
Querrey finished with a record of 27-22, and when the season was over he took an entire month off; he didn't step on a tennis court or even hit the gym. His start to 2014 did not look promising. He lost to Albert Ramos in his first match in Sydney, then fell to Marinko Matosevic in his second match in Brisbane.
A week later, he finds himself the ranking American man after No. 13-ranked John Isner departed with a first-round retirement following an ankle injury and one of only four unseeded players in his half of the draw.
The match against Fognini is intriguing. They have never met, but this one features a powerful puncher and a stylish counterpuncher. If Querrey is patient, he has the tools to overpower Fognini.
His reward would be a berth in the fourth round and a probable Sunday date with No. 2 seed and three-time defending champion Novak Djokovic. Querrey has reached the fourth round of a major three times in his career, but the last time was 40 months ago. The pattern has been similar. Querrey fell to Rafael Nadal in the fourth round of the 2008 US Open, Andy Murray at Wimbledon in 2010 and Stanislas Wawrinka the same year at the US Open.
They're all currently top-10 players, and like the rest of the ATP World Tour Querrey has struggled with big fellows. His combined record against Djokovic, Nadal, Murray and Roger Federer is 2-17. He may soon have a chance to spiff up that mark.
Here are the three other Friday matches featuring Americans:
No. 1 Serena Williams versus No. 31 Daniela Hantuchova: A win here gives Williams the all-time record for main-draw victories at the Australian Open. She is currently tied with Margaret Court at 60. They've met nine times, with Williams winning eight. Interestingly, Hantuchova's only win came in Melbourne, in the 2006 third round. The winner gets a Grand Slam champion, either Samantha Stosur or Ana Ivanovic.
Lauren Davis versus No. 30 Eugenie Bouchard: This is a clash between two of the WTA's emerging young players. Davis, 20 and a resident of Boca Raton, Fla., is ranked No. 68 and off to a torrid start for 2014. She won four matches (three qualifying) in Sydney and two matches each in Auckland and Melbourne. Davis is into the third round of a major for the first time. She has never met the 19-year-old Canadian, who is ranked No. 31.
Alison Riske versus No. 9 seed Angelique Kerber: Risk, 23 and a resident of Atlanta, is 2-2 this year and is 0-1 for her career against the hard-hitting German. The victor, along with the winner of the Flavia Pennetta-Mona Barthel match, will reach the Australian Open quarters for the first time.