By John Delong
Sam Querrey has always played well at the Winston-Salem Open, and he hopes that a return trip this year can help him build momentum going into the US Open.
The 26-year-old Californian took a step in the right direction on Monday evening as he defeated Spain’s Pere Riba 7-6 (5), 6-4 in his opening round match on Center Court at the Wake Forest Tennis Complex at BB&T Field.
Querrey faced only one break point all night and got the only break he needed in the final game of the match, to move into a second-round match against longtime friend Steve Johnson on Tuesday.
Querrey was only mildly pleased with the performance, but he liked that it could be a building block for the rest of the week. He has made the semifinals in each of the past two WSOs, eventually losing to Tomas Berdych in 2012 and to eventual champion Jurgen Melzer in 2013.
“Last year I had a pretty bad summer at the start and then got it going here and made the semifinals, so I’m hoping I can do that again,” Querrey said. “I’ve played well here in the past so I’ll try my best to keep it up.”
Consistency, he said, is what has been lacking throughout a year that saw him drop all the way to No. 82 in April. He is currently ranked No. 56.
In each of his last four tournaments, he has won in the first round, lost in the second. He came to Winston-Salem after beating Alejandro Falla and then losing to Tommy Robredo, the WSO’s third seed, in Cincinnati.
Querrey’s best results this year have been trips to the semifinals at Houston and Eastbourne.
“My year’s been pretty average,” Querrey said. “It’s been a lot of one step forward, two steps back. I’m struggling to put two, three, four good matches together in a row. There’s days when I play a great match and then I feel my level drops quite a bit the next day. So I need to find that stability at a high level. I just haven’t found it yet.”
Against Riba, who came into the tournament ranked No. 116, he served well, finishing with 16 aces. He won 78 percent of his first-serve points.
In the first-set tiebreak, he got the mini-break he needed on set point, and then in the second set he finally got his first break of the night on match point.
“It was all right,” Querrey said. “I don’t think I played great. I felt like I served pretty well, hit the big forehands and did the right things on the big points. But I need to kinda clean everything up a little bit.”
He’ll get that chance against Johnson, the 16th seed in this tournament and Querrey’s current doubles partner.
It’s a match that will bring mixed emotions.
“I’ve known him since we were 12 years old,” Querrey said. “We grew up together in LA. It’s not fun to play a buddy. We were kinda bummed when we saw the draw. But it happens. If he wins, I’ll be happy for him, and I’m sure if I win he’ll be happy for me. But it’s always a little awkward.”