Querrey's unexpected confidence on clay burgeoning

Sam Querrey is the first American to defeat a top-10 player on clay since Vincent Spadea beat No. 5 Rainer Schuettler in 2004. AP Photo/Claude Paris

Sam Querrey sounded exhilarated on the telephone after upending Richard Gasquet to reach the quarterfinals of the prestigious Monte Carlo Masters Series event Thursday -- and not just because of the result.

"They showed it on TV?" he said in wonderment. "All of it? That's awesome."

Yes, all three sets of it, in a 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 win that showed Querrey is ready for prime time on clay this season and deserves to be taken seriously on the surface that has been such a bugaboo in recent years for U.S. men. The ATP No. 50 is the only American who entered the singles draw.

Coupled with his previous victories over aging but still dangerous Carlos Moya of Spain and Italy's Andreas Seppi, Querrey's run is the best in this event since Vince Spadea advanced to the semifinals in 2003. (Spadea also was the last U.S. man to beat a top-10 player on European clay, in 2004.)

This also marks Querrey's second Masters Series quarterfinal, along with Cincinnati last summer, and third career win over a top-10 player.

"I kind of expected to lose to Moya, but I've been gaining confidence with every match," Querrey told ESPN.com. He originally booked his return flight for the day after the first-round match, and consequently has had to change it three times.

"I have nothing to lose, and I'm just going out there and having fun," he said. "A lot of it is just believing you can play well on clay."

Querrey working with Reyes

No matter what happens in Monte Carlo, Sam Querrey will be coming home for the next three weeks for an intensive training period with Andre Agassi's fitness mentor, Gil Reyes, in Las Vegas.

Querrey worked with Reyes for a week earlier this month "and just loved it,'' said his coach, Grant Doyle. "We're going to try to use him whenever we can.''

Reyes' strength and conditioning regimen was the foundation of Agassi's comeback in the late '90s and is universally credited with helping the legend stay competitive at the top level of the game until age 36.

"Aerobically, Sam is actually quite good, but he hasn't got a lot of strength,'' Doyle said. "He just stopped growing 18 months ago, so he's never been able to really work on his upper body or his legs. You're not supposed to do a lot of weight training while you're still growing.

"If he gets stronger and is able to put more oomph on his serve, the possibilities for him are endless.''

Querrey will return to Europe in mid-May to tune up for the French Open with a clay-court event in Poertschach, Austria.

-- Bonnie D. Ford

He very nearly didn't make the trip at all, but "decided to give it a shot and ventured over here by myself," Querrey said, while Aussie coach Grant Doyle stayed in the States due to family obligations.

"It does make it hard to find a warmup partner," Querrey said. He approached a local player in the locker room and the two have been hitting each day, although Querrey remains blissfully unaware of his lucky charm's name.

The 20-year-old Californian spent seven weeks on European clay last year and went 1-5, but that tough slog is paying off now, according to Doyle. "He'd never had a significant period of time on clay in his life," the coach said. "I put absolutely no pressure on him, told him to just try to get better.

"He's very good from the back, he's got a good forehand and serves very well. A lot of clay-court players don't like it when you get lots of free points on your serve."

Doyle also noted that Querrey's 6-foot-6-inch vantage point actually gives him an edge in handling the elevated bounce. "He can deliver from up high, the ball sits up for him and lets him have a go at his shots," he said. Querrey agreed, saying, "I don't mind the ball up high around my shoulders. It's in my zone a lot."

U.S. Davis Cup captain and ESPN analyst Patrick McEnroe watched the third set of the Gasquet match and was impressed by Querrey's comfort level.

"His serve is just as effective, and he has a little more time to get to the ball [on clay]," McEnroe said. "What gets him in trouble on hard court sometimes is when he has to move quickly to the ball. But he has good positioning and court awareness.

"I remember speaking to him last year about playing in Europe. He played some close matches against good players, and he really thought it was worthwhile. He had the right attitude a year ago, and from that standpoint, I'm not surprised that he's playing well."

Querrey looked overmatched in a swiftly concluded first set against No. 9 Gasquet, but said he consciously tried to slow the match down, place his first serve (he made 65 percent for the match) and play more aggressively.

He hung in credibly on long rallies but also tried to curtail the side-to-side when he could, taking advantage of Gasquet's tendency to loiter behind the baseline by crafting drop shots and sharply-angled slice volleys on key points.

At 3-all in the second set, Querrey demonstrated mettle by saving seven break points, repeatedly nailing the door shut with aces. Querrey proceeded to break Gasquet at love for the set, prompting the visibly frustrated Frenchman to hurl his racket to the ground.

Gasquet never recovered, and double-faulted to concede the only break Querrey needed in the third set. "I don't think he expected me to play that well," Querrey said.

No. 3 Novak Djokovic will pose an even greater challenge in the next round. "I just have to be a little more confident and play more aggressively than I did last [and only] time I played him, in the Australian Open, when I got my clock cleaned," Querrey said.

Doyle said he thinks Querrey likes the idea of excelling as the only American anywhere near Paris right now, but Querrey isn't letting this interlude go to his head.

When it was suggested that wins on clay might make him a candidate for Davis Cup play, where the U.S. plays the vast majority of its away matches on the treacherous surface, Querrey demurred. "I have a long way to go before I'm picked ahead of James [Blake] or Andy [Roddick]," he said. "We'll see what happens."

Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com. She can be reached at bonniedford@aol.com.