PARIS – It's a learning process, professional sports. And learning about tennis is not just about how to hit a ball. It's about learning to deal with coaches, agents, and especially your travel schedule. Sam Querrey has been learning about all that these past eight weeks in Europe and he still hasn't quite got a grip of it.
Which is why the No. 18 seed will be on a plane home to California after being upset by fellow American Robby Ginepri 4-6, 7-6, 6-4, 6-2 in the first round of the French Open on Tuesday. Querrey, after winning an ATP title in Belgrade and generally playing well on the red clay as he travelled round Europe with his buddy John Isner, simply lost the plot. He got fed up, said he didn't want to be out there. No chance of winning in that frame of mind.
"I just got tired," he said, looking it. "Mentally not there. Just did not enjoy myself out there. It's been like that on and off for like a while. So I'm going home tomorrow."
Presuming Querrey carries out his threat, Isner will find himself out of the doubles because he won't have a partner. And they were seeded 12th. There are those who will criticize Querrey for not being professional, and he probably won't mount much of a defense.
"I've not been a professional, you know, on and off for the last few months," Querrey said. "You're out there facing one opponent. You don't want to face the opponent and myself. I just need to get it together mentally in my head. You know, right now I'll be enjoying it and as soon as one thing goes wrong, I'm done. My coach thinks I'm a little tapped out."
His coach, David Nainkin, is right. Querrey is not the first American to find Europe a difficult travel destination. It's all too different. There may be a Starbucks on every corner now, but it's not enough.
Ginepri is sympathetic: "I've been over here for five, six weeks straight in the past and having played the French, just like Sam did, I was just burnt out," he said.
Andy Roddick knows all about it, too. But he's an old hand at this now and his circumstances this year have been completely different. He took time off to be with his wife after Miami, got sick in Madrid and came into Paris with no competitive match practice. Which is why he struggled big time to overcome the veteran Finn, Jarkko Nieminen, eventually clinching a hard-fought victory 6-2, 4-6, 4-6, 7-6, 6-3.
"It wasn't pretty," Roddick admitted with typical candor afterwards. "There was a lot of ugliness out there today. He was hitting huge balls and taking loads of chances and the stats would suggest that both us played a pretty high level, more winners than unforced errors. Just managed to come back in the end, fighting and believing."
That's what Querrey was not able to do. But Roddick was not about to criticize the young man who, along with Isner, has stepped into his Davis Cup shoes.
"I think before I comment on hearsay and whatever is being interpreted, I'll probably address it with Sam if I talk to him," Roddick said. "You know, it's tough for him because when he's in the States he plays really well when he plays a lot. He can play a lot. But, you know, you learn. I feel like I have a better grasp of my schedule now than I did when I was 21 or 22. He'll learn."
Meanwhile, there was every indication that French tennis has found another star. Gianni Mina didn't win. In fact, according to the score, he got demolished by Rafael Nadal in front of a packed Court Suzanne Lenglen as the rain clouds started to gather. But, in this instance, the 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 score lies.
Nadal was made to work his socks off by an 18-year-old who struck the ball with tremendous power and wonderful rhythm. On more than half a dozen occasions he simply outhit and outmaneuvered the four-time Roland Garros champion, and that is not an easy thing to do -- for anybody.
Mina is ranked No. 655 in the world and was playing in his first Grand Slam singles draw. His experience on the ATP tour is virtually zero, but he earned his wild card by winning the Orange Bowl in Key Biscayne last December. I watched some of his matches that week and thought he was good. But I didn't realize he was this good.
Nadal, ever the perfectionist, was more fussed about his own game than that of his opponent.
"I played poorly because I made a lot of unforced errors," he said. "Ball wasn't doing what I wanted it to do. I didn't play well. That's the truth."
Nadal admitted to being a bit nervous and stressed: "The first round is always difficult in this tournament."
When pressed, Nadal did admit that young Mina should have a bright future.
"I think he's a good player," he said. "I think he can play well in the future, but you never know. He has good potential because he has good serve and he's fast. That's very important. When you are 18 and you can play, for sure he has good chances to be on the tour very soon."
And when he finds opponents just a little less dominating that Nadal, Mina will progress.