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Steve Flink: Ginepri answers the Querrey

7/27/2009 12:00:00 AM

by Steve Flink

I am always pleasantly reminded that we have moved into the heart of summer when the Olympus U.S. Open Series gets started in the middle of July. It is a great time of the year in the world of tennis because the players have had time to recuperate from the rigors of the long clay court circuit culminating with the French Open, followed by the preeminent tournament of them all at Wimbledon only two weeks after Roland Garros. This past week, the Open Series was launched once more with the staging of the Indianapolis Tennis Championships, and that event was captured by none other than Robby Ginepri, the 26-year-old American who had been away from the upper levels of the game for quite a long time.

Ginepri demonstrated with his Indianapolis triumph that history has a way of repeating itself. It was in 2005 that he secured the same title. On that occasion, he saved three match points on his way to a startling quarterfinal victory over Andy Roddick. He went on to take the final from Taylor Dent, and winning the tournament propelled Ginepri through a sparkling summer campaign. He made it to the semifinals in Cincinnati before losing a hard fought skirmish with Roger Federer. And then he enjoyed the most productive fortnight of his career at a Grand Slam championship. Demonstrating his fitness and resilience over and over again, he secured three consecutive five set wins en route to the penultimate round of the U.S. Open, toppling Tommy Haas, Richard Gasquet and Guillermo Coria before falling in the semifinals against a countryman named Andre Agassi in yet another five set showdown.

Ginepri achieved a career best year-end ranking of No. 17 upon the conclusion of 2005. I thought then he would remain in that territory for a long time, but thereafter he did not play up to the consistently high standards his boosters wanted from him. By the end of 2006, he had slipped to No. 51; he concluded 2007 at No. 132. Although Ginepri moved back to respectability at No. 51 again when the curtain closed on 2008, it seemed as if his days of competing at higher levels were perhaps over. Earlier this year, his troubles were compounded when an appendicitis forced him out of the game for three months, keeping him in the hospital for nine days, depleting him severely as he apparently lost somewhere in the range of 30 pounds.

In fact, Ginepri had won only four matches in the entire 2009 season as he headed into Indianapolis as a wildcard. His ATP ranking had slipped to No. 95 in the world. But then he got on a roll, surging into the semifinals, clipping big John Isner in a straight set encounter to make it into the title round. Waiting for him there was Sam Querrey, the 21-year-old Californian with one of the sport’s most daunting first serves and an explosive forehand to boot. Querrey had lost inexplicably in the final of Newport on grass the week after Wimbledon, falling against lucky loser Rajeev Ram. I thought he would be primed to make amends for that disappointing loss by overcoming Ginepri, but that was not the case at all.

From the outset, Ginepri was in stellar form on the hard courts. He stood inside the baseline almost entirely to make aggressive returns off first and second serves. He dictated play from the back of the court with excellent depth, remarkable ball control, and superior court positioning. He played first rate percentage tennis. He sensed that this was his time, and he took matters ably into his own hands. Ginepri recorded a 6-2, 6-4 victory over Querrey, competing with quiet yet unmistakable intensity, giving away almost nothing (he made only 11 unforced errors in 18 games), establishing a comfort zone from the baseline early on, keeping Querrey off guard and ill at ease throughout with his penetrating flat two-handed backhand down the line.

As I watched the contest unfold on ESPN 2, I was highly impressed with Ginepri and somewhat dismayed by Querrey’s negativity and ineptitude. Here is how it unfolded. Despite one double fault--- an ominous sign of things to come--- Querrey held easily in the opening game of the match, but garnered only one more game the rest of the set. Serving at 1-1, Querrey double faulted on the first point of the game, and then did it again at break point down. Ginepri went ahead 3-1, and then saved a break point at 3-2 with a solid backhand volley down the line provoking a mistake from Querrey. Querrey served two more double faults in the seventh game as Ginepri got the insurance break for 5-2, and then Ginepri closed out that set.

In the second set, Querrey collected himself to some degree. In the opening set, he had connected with only 6 of 22 first serves for a dismal 27%. In the second set, he managed to make 11 of 19 first serves (58%) in staying on serve for a 4-3 lead. But Ginepri was still outmaneuvering Querrey in the baseline exchanges, and he was not allowing Querrey any chances to break. At 4-4, Querrey built a 40-0 lead, but double faulted again. Ginepri hung in that game tenaciously until Querrey released his ninth and final double fault at break point down, and then the older American calmly held at love to close out the account in style. In the end, Querrey had an abysmal serving day but Ginepri challenged him forthrightly by taking his returns so early.

This was a major step in the right direction for Ginepri, who now has climbed back to No. 56 in the world. The Indianapolis victory will undoubtedly do wonders for Ginepri’s self esteem, and encourage him to celebrate another top of the line summer on the hard courts. Although Ginepri does not have an overwhelming weapon off the ground or on serve, the fact remains that he is a formidable competitor who could win his share of matches in the upcoming hard court events. I hope he can build on this latest win, and perhaps accomplish much of what he did in 2005 after his triumph then in Indianapolis.

But I would be surprised if Ginepri could replicate his 2005 summer this time around. He will be surrounded by too many excellent hard court players in the game’s upper echelons, and a run to the U.S. Open semifinals seems highly unlikely. Nevertheless, it is nice to see him back performing so well, and I could see him pulling off a few upsets from now through the U.S. Open. As for Querrey, he seems like such a good natured young man, but losing does not appear to be as wrenching for him as it is for all of the great players.

Querrey--- by virtue of reaching his third final of 2009 and performing with reasonable consistency over the past year--- is now stationed at No. 32 in the world, his highest ever world ranking. But it is my full conviction that with a greater sense of urgency and a deeper commitment to succeed, Querrey would find himself among the top 20 players in the world. The hope here is that he will discover that his will to win is larger than he had ever known, and he will then start moving forward steadily as a player and competitor. Roddick--- who had to pull out of Indianapolis with an injury--- is clearly the King of American tennis. But James Blake seems in danger of slipping permanently past his prime. Mardy Fish will turn 28 at the end of the year; he is playing some exceptional tennis this year, but how long can he keep performing at his current level?

That leaves Querrey as the best long term hope for the American game. He still has plenty of time to grow into his talent and mature as a match player. Meanwhile, American fans can celebrate the reemergence of Robby Ginepri, who has a chance to put his woes behind him as he seeks to make the next two years the finest of his entire career.

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