Sam Querrey doesn’t set goals, but he has a reason to wake up every morning and train.
“My motivation? Prize money,” Querrey said in a recent interview with ESPN.com. “I know it’s kind of blunt, but honestly, I think that is a lot of guys’ motivation. They don’t say that because it doesn’t necessarily sound great. Instead, a lot of people say, ‘I have this passion for the game. That’s my drive.'”
Listening to Querrey, who made more than $2.2 million last season, you might think he’s a glass-half-empty player. But while he’s not a guy who longs to win a Grand Slam, he just doesn’t want to set himself up for disappointment. The 30-year-old has logged a lot of work recently.
“I want to improve and have a good 12 months,” Querrey said. “If I go to Australia and play aggressive and do what I want to do and lose in the first round, I will be OK with that. At the end of this season, I want to look back and say, ‘I’m proud of my improvement this year.'”
After last season, his 12th on tour, Querrey accessed his previous 365 days with that very sentiment. He made his first major semifinal, at Wimbledon, played in the quarters of the US Open and won two titles, including a best-of-three stunner over Rafael Nadal in Acapulco. He enters 2018 ranked No. 13, a career-high, and is the second-highest-ranked American man on tour behind Jack Sock (No. 8).
“The previous 12 months have been the best of my career,” Querrey said. “I have a big game and I feel like I can beat a lot of these top guys. I can make big runs in Grand Slams. I know that now.”
Before last season, Querrey believes if anyone asked if he would win a major before the end of his career, he likely would have said no. “I wouldn’t even have said I would make the semifinals of a Grand Slam,” he said. “But now I’m in the mindset that if the draw opens up, I can go far in Slams and win a Grand Slam. Over the past 10 years, that wasn’t a realistic expectation.”
So what is different? Querrey says he changed his tactics last season, thanks in large part to an earful from his coach, Craig Boynton, after his third-round win against Britain’s Kyle Edmund in Acapulco.
“I won, but I didn’t play aggressively, and I moped around on the court a bit,” Querrey says. “After the match, Craig sat me down at dinner and, it’s not that he laid into me, but he had a talk with me. He said, ‘You need to change things up.'”
It wasn’t the first time the pair had this conversation. Querrey understood he needed to play more aggressive tennis, even on days when he didn’t feel like it or in moments when the match wasn’t going his way, and he knew he had good results when he did.
“I played the rest of the tournament like that and ended up doing really well,” Querrey said of his championship run. “When I play that way, I know I can beat anyone. When I don’t, I’ll win matches, but not tournaments.”
Querrey is most at home on hard courts, winning eight of his 10 career titles on the surface, but the furthest he’s advanced in Melbourne is the third round, which he’s done five times including last year, when he lost in straight sets to Andy Murray.
But with Murray absent this season after having hip surgery and Kei Nishikori out with a wrist injury, the draw is already opening up. Six-time Australian Open champ Novak Djokovic (elbow) and Stan Wawrinka (knee), a semifinalist in Melbourne last year, both pulled out of the Abu Dhabi exhibition in early January, and it’s likely neither will be full-throttle in Oz. The same goes for Nadal, the 2017 runner-up, who is also rehabbing a knee injury.
That means Querrey’s first major final could come sooner than expected. “It’s true, there is a fire and a focus inside,” Querrey said. “I feel like I found a new level of intensity, if you want to call it that, especially in big moments in big tournaments.
“Even [last month] hitting, I feel my game is at an all-time high. I’m striking the ball well and my confidence is high, and confidence is the most important thing in those big matches.”
That confidence could lead him to a memorable run in Melbourne — and a much bigger paycheck.