If the Los Angeles final had any real turning point, it came when the two players stepped onto the hazy sunshine of Straus Stadium. Two-time champion Sam Querrey towered nine inches above Lithuanian qualifier Ricardas Berankis, who had fought his way to Sunday by upsetting three seeded opponents but never came close to toppling a fourth.
Setting the tone with a strong opening service game, the home favorite capitalized upon a series of nervous groundstrokes from Berankis, who contested his first ATP final today and looked every bit the novice. With that initial break behind him, Querrey steamrolled through a 19-minute firs set and in fact won the first eight games before his overmatched opponent earned his first game point. Although he struck winners from everywhere on the court, including his less renowned backhand and volley, the second seed certainly received assistance from his opponent. At the end of the first set, in which Berankis won eight total points, fifteen of Querrey’s twenty-four points had resulted from unforced errors donated by the qualifier. Unable to land either his first serve or his return of second serve with consistency, he lacked the weapons with which he had hoped to take the initiative from his more powerful opponent.
Adjusting his tactics on return, Berankis started hitting behind the favorite to earn two break points in the third game of the second set, his first chances to win a game in the final. Aggressive first-strike tennis saved them without much ado, however, and a 132-mph ace from Querrey consolidated the lead with an exclamation point. After Berankis finally inserted himself onto the scoreboard with his only impressive game of the match, holding with a cheeky drop shot, drama receded until the American served at 4-2. Then came the Lithuanian’s only genuine opportunity to turn the tide, for he had settled into the match with consecutive holds and started to rediscover the timing on his returns. In a long deuce game on Querrey’s serve, he cleaned lines with two outright return winners, including a spectacular somersaulting flick on an explosive first serve that somehow found the sideline. That moment of brilliance could have signaled a momentum shift, had the two-time champion faltered on the break point that followed. But he did not, instead, raining down a 127-mph ace. A few deuces and a 136-mph ace later, Querrey finally escaped the dangerous game. A clearly deflated Berankis surrendered his serve with a tepid backhand unforced error moments later to conclude a 51-minute final, one of the shortest in the ATP this year.
With his third title in Los Angeles, Querrey joins an exclusive list of players who have won the event three times or more: Arthur Ashe, Jimmy Connors, and Andre Agassi. While he has accomplished far less than those splendid champions, the American hopes to use the impetus from this triumph (his seventh ATP title overall) to fuel a strong US Open Series campaign. Within range of a seeding at the US Open, Querrey hopes to attain not only that goal but a return to the top 20, which he inhabited less than two years ago. . Now tied with Roddick for the lead in the US Open Series, he will seek to win that challenge for the second time and enhance his prize money in New York. Recovering from a series of injuries, he may have found the requisite maturity to rise higher than he has before. More comfortable in all areas of the court and the sport than in previous years, he still has time to establish himself as the leading man in a generation of Americans without a clear spearhead.
Check the observertennis channel on Youtube later today for videos of press conferences by Querrey and Berankis.