by Kevin Craig
In the first all-American final on the ATP tour since April of 2015, Sam Querrey defeated Rajeev Ram 6-4, 7-6 in the Delray Beach Open final. Playing in good conditions with a neutral crowd, Querrey proved to be the better player on the day, crushing his serve and simply playing at a more consistent level throughout the match.
The first set saw Ram jump out to a quick lead by breaking Querrey in the first game of the match. This was a surprise in itself as Querrey came from not facing a single break point in the semifinals against Juan Martin Del Potro, to being broken in the first game of the final. Querrey was not phased, though, as he managed to break right back in the next game to get back on serve. Aside from one game at 3-3 where Querrey was taken to deuce, the set was straightforward until Ram served at 4-5. After going up 40-15 in the game, Ram dropped four consecutive points as Querrey managed to break to win the set, 6-4.
The second set got off to a similar start as the first as Ram opened it up by breaking Querrey, this time at love. Ram was able to consolidate in his first service game of the set, but came across trouble serving at 2-1. Querrey managed to fight back from 40-30 to win three points in a row to get the break and level the set at 2-2. This time, both servers were able to see things through to the tiebreak with only a few hiccups along the way. Ram saved a break point at 2-3, while Querrey double faulted on consecutive points after going up 40-15 in his 5-5 service game. Both players were able to hold their nerve in those respective situations, though, sending the second set to a tiebreak.
Ram got off to a good start in the tiebreak, jumping out to a 3-0 lead and eventually holding a 5-2 lead. From there, Querrey managed to win three points in a row to get back on serve in the tiebreak, before saving a set point with an ace at 5-6. After the second change of ends with the score at 6-6, Querrey earned a match point and took advantage of it by hitting an impressive running forehand passing shot that just barely clipped the baseline to win the title.
Querrey and Ram both stated in their press conferences that they felt a little nervous throughout the match, mostly because of the fact they know each other so well. Querrey claimed that what got him through the match and to the title was simply the willingness to win, as he claimed that he had to resort to “ugly tennis” to get the win. Playing at a level below his best yet still managing to win a tournament gives Querrey loads of confidence as he heads into an important part of the season with the Indian Wells-Miami double coming up.
The title for Querrey is his eighth on the ATP World Tour, six of which have come on American soil, but his first since the summer of 2012. The win will cause Querrey’s ranking to jump to No. 43 in the world, the highest his ranking has been since September of 2015.
After a down season in 2015 in which Querrey lost in the first round of half the events he played in, he has been able to get off to a decent start this season, making the veteran American feel great about where his game is right now. The title in Delray Beach was preceded by a semifinal run in Memphis where he was only stopped by Kei Nishikori in a three-setter. Looking forward, Querrey has plenty of room for his ranking to improve in 2016 as he has very little to defend. Other than trying to defend two finals appearances, both of which will come before Wimbledon, he only has second round points to defend for the rest of the year, which Querrey is one bright side of “having a crappy year.”
For Ram, he is disappointed to have lost in the final, but making it that far was surely a pleasant surprise for him. Battling past Bernard Tomic in the first round, fighting back from a set and a break down in the quarterfinals against Benjamin Becker, and beating Grigor Dimitrov in the semifinals will be enough for Ram to look back at this week as a huge positive, although he did state that “you never come into a tournament hoping to lose in the first round” when asked if he was pleased with his run this week.
Not only are the match results impressive for Ram, but he will also now jump to a new career high ranking of No. 60, blowing past his previous career high of No. 78. This run will give Ram the confidence needed to continue his success throughout the rest of the 2016 season as he will look to defend his title in Newport in the summer and attempt to finish in the Top 100 in back-to-back years for the first time in his career.
Ram stated that he feels as if he is currently playing the best tennis of his career and has high hopes for the rest of the 2016 season. His plan for the rest of the year is to see where he is ranked after Miami and schedule accordingly his events in Europe. He wants to be well rested for the grass court season and North American hard court swing in the summer, the time of the year in which he feels that he plays his best tennis.
After an event in which many people around the tennis world expected Kevin Anderson, Del Potro, and Dimitrov to have the best weeks, it is two Americans who come out on top and head into the rest of their seasons with confidence.