Sam Querrey beat Tommy Haas on Saturday evening at the LA Tennis Open, 6-3, 7-5. The towering American was surprisingly fleet of foot, hit serves consistently in the 130s and rushed the net when he could. It was a great win for Sam, who is now in his third straight ATP final, having played Sundays at both Newport and Indianapolis this summer. He’ll play a surprise finalist, qualifier Carsten Ball, in the final this Sunday.
It was not so great of a night for Tommy Haas, the No. 1 seed and a two time champion in LA (2004 and 2006.) Sam’s big shots kept Tommy pinned near the fence for much of the match – Haas was angry when the line judges got in his way. He failed to convert any of the 5 break opportunities he had. And the on-court conditions were driving Haas nuts – he complained after Friday’s quarterfinal that the balls were flying and he couldn’t get a good feel on the ball.
The conditions got a hell of a lot worse on Saturday.
I’m talking about Sam Querrey’s rowdy fan club, the “Samurai”, a group of his high school buddies who have been busting eardrums all summer. The Indianapolis tournament even flew them out last week in a questionable effort to boost its unpopulated tournament. The Samurai rallied Saturday night at UCLA for Querrey’s match against Haas, commandeering a corner of the small stadium. They cheered, cajoled and beat their painted chests after every point. They used a drum during changeovers.
An example of the Samurai effect: 1st set, Sam’s up 4-3 on serve. Tommy’s serving and down 30-40. The Samurai – always on their feet – link arms, sway and start a slow and steady chant before Haas steps to the line: “BREAK! BREAK! BREAK! BREAK!”
It works. Sam gets his break and serves out the first set, hitting two aces and sprinting up to a feathery drop shot on set point that Haas obviously thought he couldn’t touch.
“They were awesome.” Sam said of his Samurai after the match. “You couldn’t ask for a better group of friends and a bunch of guys who support me. They get me through a lot of the Love-40 downers and (keep me) fired up on set points.”
Tommy Haas did not find the Samurai awesome, saying the group had “no class” and behaved inappropriately: “It’s up to Sam to take control of the situation. This was not the fifth set of a US Open.“
Sam disagreed: “I think they’re pretty considerate considering none of them play tennis. They’re just fired up. It’s a home match. It’s the semifinals. It’s a night match. Yeah they get fired up, but it’s not my fault.”
To complain that the Samurai have “no class” is just stating the obvious. We’re talking about a swaggering gang of shirtless dudes in bodypaint – just add kegger. And Sam (or his intern) has obviously trained them on a few etiquette basics. I was sitting two rows away – lucky me! – and observed the group applauding Tommy’s winners every now and then. They kept their mouths shut during the points and between first and second serves. Sure, they cheered Haas’s errors, but nowadays even the players fist pump when their opponents’ double fault.
Sarah Foster, Haas’s fiance, warned ESPN’s Pam Shriver that there would be blood if the Samurai didn’t behave. I’m sure she was sharpening her knife to a deadly point all match long.
But what did the ticket-buying “neutrals” in the crowd think of Sam’s Club? I disagree with Querrey’s own appraisal that “99% of the people in (the stadium) think that they’re awesome.” A couple feisty kids and their mom got into it with the Samurai, and I detected a few sighs and shaking heads around me. Personally, the dudes got on my nerves. My ideal tennis crowd is energized, balanced in its support and respectful of the game’s sporting traditions. Like at Wimbledon. But the LA Tennis Open ain’t SW19. (Talk about stating the obvious!) And I admit that I’m a curmudgeonly tennis snob who likes her players classy and the fans wearing shirts.
“That’s why (tennis) isn’t more popular.” said Sam, reacting to the criticism. “I think if you had a group like (the Samurai) in every stadium tennis would be more popular.”
Well, what do you think?
Here are some photos of some of the action on Saturday night: