Sam Querrey sets lofty goals for 2013

Tennis' offseason, although longer than it used to be, is still brief -- and much of the roughly two months is spent on training for the next year. So when players have a chance to unwind, they grab it.

Sam Querrey hit the dance floor and consumed a few beverages at the wedding of fellow pro James Blake in California this month. Mardy Fish, John Isner and the recently retired Andy Roddick were also in attendance as Blake, once featured in People magazine's Sexiest Man Alive issue, tied the knot with Emily Snider.

"The wedding was awesome," Querrey said in a telephone interview last week. "I've just been on two or three mini-vacations. I haven't hit a ball or worked out, and it's been nice to get some downtime."

He earned it.

Although Brian Baker is sure to receive the tag of men's comeback player of 2012, rising to inside the top 65 after missing most of the previous six seasons because of an assortment of injuries, Querrey isn't far behind.

Returning from elbow surgery and a rare umbilical cord infection, the Dallas resident resurfaced in the top 25 and saved his finest tournament for last, upsetting world No. 1 Novak Djokovic on the way to a quarterfinal showing at the Paris Masters. His renaissance came as compatriots Isner, Ryan Harrison and Donald Young all disappointed.

If Querrey achieves his goal of entering the top 10 in the first half of 2013, where he has little points to defend, the post-Roddick era in American tennis would begin nicely.

"I'm still coming off that win over Novak," said Querrey, who subsequently eliminated Milos Raonic in the French capital. "I'm at a great point in my life. I'm confident. I'm feeling awesome and really looking forward to starting things up. The last six months have been so fun; when you keep winning, it's fun, and I want to keep it up next year.

"The second half was outstanding. Every tournament was good. I didn't really take a bad loss. I'm hoping to have the first half of next year be like the second of this year."

Querrey's fans and the USTA will be encouraged by the 25-year-old's mood. It was only two years ago at the French Open that a downcast Querrey admitted, following a first-round loss to Robby Ginepri, he had no motivation.

"I'm definitely focused," Querrey said. "Well, I'm not focused and motivated at the moment, but after I get on the practice court I'm going to be really ready and focused for 2013!"

Querrey was due to begin practicing at the end of last week in Los Angeles with his South African coach, David Nainkin of the USTA. Whereas Querrey worked with Brad Gilbert, too, for a while in 2012, he'll only use the services of Nainkin and the U.S. governing body in the next year, he said.

Content with his endurance -- his stamina was tested in a 5-hour, 31-minute loss to Marin Cilic in the third round at Wimbledon -- Querrey plans to strengthen his upper body. Aided by acupuncture, his body held up in 2012, paving the way to success.

On the court, Querrey knows he needs to improve his return game, similar to Isner, his buddy and intermittent doubles partner.

Querrey finished 14th in service games won this season, ahead of the likes of Andy Murray and Janko Tipsarevic, but was only 52nd in return games won at 18 percent. (Isner was 58th -- among 58 players listed on the ATP's website.)

"I just have to believe and be sound in my game plan of taking cuts at returns, especially on second serves," Querrey said. "I have to be more intimidating and go at guys more. When a ball is there to be hit, hit it every time. I want to stick to a game plan; whether it works or not, I'll be happy at the end of the match."

"He has the game," said Gilbert, who thinks Querrey can break into the top 10 with some tweaks. "He moves well and has a bomber serve. If he improves his return game by 5 to 8 percent -- close matches he lost, it could be different."

Roddick, Blake, Fish and Isner have each been the highest-ranked American on tour at some stage. Querrey, who trails Isner by eight spots, wants to join the quartet.

"It would mean a lot to me," Querrey said. "I want to do it off of my good results, by going deep at the Masters events and Slams, not off the other guys not doing well. I don't want to be the U.S. No. 1 ranked 22nd because other guys fell off in the rankings."

If he gets there, a few more celebratory drinks may be in order.