Sam Querrey ready for big-man tennis

Two years ago in Bangkok, Sam Querrey fell through a glass table following practice. The table shattered and the glass penetrated his right arm. He was lucky his career didn't come to an end.

Call it a freak injury.

You can add freak illness to the list.

Gearing up two weeks ago for his comeback from arthroscopic right elbow surgery, Querrey suddenly began experiencing pain at his belly button. It was the last thing he needed for a guy on his way outside the top 100 following a three-month layoff.

"It was kind of hurting one day, and then it started to get kind of inflamed and red," Querrey recalled in a phone interview. "It hurt to the point where I couldn't sleep, and it hurt to walk."

A worried Querrey went to see a doctor and was told he'd suffered an umbilical cord infection. Minor surgery ensued. Another setback, although Querrey was relieved because he thought it might have been an umbilical hernia, which could have sidelined him for another month.

"It was kind of a strange thing," Querrey said. "Fortunately right after the surgery it didn't hurt and I was able to play tennis. I kind of started two days later."

And that's where the road to recovery begins:

Still recouping from that medical procedure and not going all out on his big first serve, the 23-year-old nonetheless couldn't wait any longer. He made his return at a Challenger event in Tulsa last week, the first time in four years he dropped down to the lower level.

"I didn't feel 100 percent going in, but I really wanted to play a tournament," he said.

The result -- reaching the semis and losing to Michael McClune -- wasn't overly important. Rather, Querrey was just hoping the elbow would hold up.

And it did.

Playing eight matches -- four in singles and four in doubles, where he reached the final -- there was no discomfort. Querrey's elbow was operated on the week before Wimbledon; he injured it hitting a serve as he warmed up for a third-round match at Queen's Club in early June.

"Playing a Challenger, I felt pressure, but coming out of it I took it as a positive that my elbow didn't hurt," Querrey added. "It gave me confidence for the rest of the year knowing that I can make it through a tournament without my elbow hurting. But it definitely took a match or two to swing as hard as I can. The doctor can say, 'Hey, it's 100 percent,' but it's a different feeling going out and doing it for yourself."

Querrey knows there's much more to do.

He improved nine spots in the rankings this week, but that only boosted his position to No. 116, way down on the depth chart of American players -- at No. 10 to be precise. Twelve months ago, the California native stood at 21st in the world rankings after an uplifting U.S. Open, fractionally behind Mardy Fish and not far adrift of Andy Roddick.

Indeed, Querrey likely had his best season in 2010, even if he failed to eclipse the third round at any Masters event. Backed by his serve and potent forehand, he won four titles, Queen's included, and advanced to the fourth round in back-to-back Grand Slams, at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

The momentum didn't carry over. Prior to the elbow operation, Querrey compiled a less-than-mediocre 10-14 record in 2011. He was upset in the first round of the Australian Open and eliminated in the second at Roland Garros.

All this while a batch of his fellow Americans have excelled. John Isner, Querrey's pal and intermittent doubles partner, broke through at the U.S. Open, landing in a maiden Grand Slam quarterfinal; Donald Young broke new ground by getting to the fourth round in New York; Alex Bogomolov Jr. found himself in the third round there; and Roddick, surprising a few, surfaced in the quarters at the U.S. Open.

Patrick McEnroe, Querrey's former Davis Cup captain and the USTA's general manager of player development, suggested the break would benefit Querrey in the long run.

"He was getting a bit stale, and his appreciation for what he has and what it takes is deeper now," McEnroe wrote in an email.

Querrey -- who memorably admitted during last year's clay-court season that his motivation waned -- agreed with that sentiment.

"Now I'm hungrier than ever," he said. "When you don't play a tournament or practice for a while, it lets you know how much you miss the sport, how much you love it."

He'll see his fair share of action to cap 2011, signing up for five tournaments in six weeks. Querrey begins with a pair of Challenger events in California in early October, Sacramento and Tiburon before heading off to Europe and Vienna, Valencia and Paris.

Going forward, McEnroe is urging Querrey to play "big-man tennis." That entails, said McEnroe, being more aggressive on his second serve and in returning second serves, and looking to dominate with the forehand.

"Hopefully I can make a little bit of a run here but then really refocus and restart and next year put together another good year like 2010 -- or hopefully better than that," Querrey said.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter.