By John Delong
Sam Querrey came to the Winston-Salem Open feeling a sense of urgency after struggling much of the summer hard-court season.
He definitely felt a sense of urgency Wednesday afternoon in his third-round match against Jarkko Nieminen, facing triple match point in a third-set tiebreak.
But the 25-year-old Californian responded, eventually fighting off five match points to pull out a 4-6, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (10) victory to advance to Thursday’s quarterfinals.
"This is huge for my confidence," Querrey said after rallying from a 6-3 deficit in the third-set tiebreak. "This is the first time in a long while I can remember squeezing out a long tough one, saving match points, getting through when it wasn’t pretty at times. So it feels good. I felt better in this match than the first one and tomorrow I’m hoping I’ll feel a bit better."
The victory moved Querrey, the tournament’s No. 6 seed, into quarterfinal action on Thursday against Ricardas Berankis, who beat Roberto Bautista Agut 6-3, 6-3 in another third-round match.
Querrey ultimately won the third-set tiebreak with his 19th ace of the match, after getting the final mini-break he needed when Nieminen netted a crosscourt backhand. He laughed afterward that he was so drained on a hot and humid afternoon that he needed an ace because he "really didn’t want to play that point."
Querrey said he couldn’t remember a time when he had fought off more than five match points and won.
"It’s just so humid, I was so tired and lightheaded and started cramping afterwards," he said. "So I’m really proud of myself to have pulled though."
Nieminen, the No. 11 seed who had advanced to the third round when Mardy Fish retired on Tuesday, bemoaned his strategy in the third-set tiebreak afterward. He knew he had Querrey on the ropes, and tried to play longer points to see if Querrey would eventually run out of gas.
"It’s always painful to lose a tight match," Nieminen said. "It’s not like I screwed up from 6-3 to 6-all, but I’m not happy with the way I played those points from there on. I sensed he was tired and I sorta stopped playing. I just wanted to make him play and I didn’t play the way I played before. I think now afterwards I should have gone for my shots more. That can happen when you see the other guy struggle because he made so many mistakes when he had to move a little that I thought, ‘OK, let’s make him play and run.’ I didn’t go for my shots after that."
Querrey, who was the top-ranked American much of the first half of the year, came into the Winston-Salem Open with his ranking falling all the way to No. 29. He had won just one match since Wimbledon before his second-round win over Guillermo Garcia-Lopez on Monday night.
So the urgency is definitely there.
"I feel a lot of urgency," he said. "I feel like it’s, you know, kinda the last hurrah here and next week to put together some results. I’ve played two good matches and I’ve got another good chance to hopefully win another one tomorrow. Every match is a big match for me right now and I’ll take every one I can get."
Querrey has faced Berankis once before, winning in the finals at Los Angeles 6-0, 6-2 last year.
"That was his first final, in LA, where I love playing," Querrey said. "I had basically 100 percent of the crowd support, so I think he was a little nervous. I’m expecting it to be much tougher tomorrow. He’s been in some big matches now, he hits the ball clean on both sides, so it’s going to be tough."