Could Querrey be next great American tennis star?

NEW YORK: The question comes up pretty much every week. Lately, Sam Querrey finds himself answering it more often than most.

Who will be the next great American tennis star?

Querrey enters the U.S. Open as one of the top candidates, complete with his own fan club ("The Samurai"), a signature victory (over Andy Roddick) and a significant title (winner of the U.S. Open Series).

He is 21, has a serve that tops out around 125 mph and is gaining confidence seemingly by the second.

He knows he is one nice run maybe starting this week at Flushing Meadows from cracking the top 20 and quite possibly becoming the next big thing on an American tennis scene that is always searching for just that.

"Everyone is doing what they can," said Querrey, who is seeded 22nd. "A lot of times, even if you go back 100 years, you'll have a period of 10 years where you'll have four or five guys in the top 10, and then years where you might just have one guy. It's kind of like a rolling wave."

Play was scheduled to begin Monday, with Roger Federer embarking on the quest for his sixth consecutive title in a match against NCAA champion Devin Britton. The Williams sisters were both on the schedule, as were Roddick and James Blake, two Americans who used to hear plenty of what Querrey hears now.

Roddick and Blake were supposed to be part of the last "rolling wave" that would put Americans back near the top of any conversation about great tennis, the one currently dominated by Federer and Rafael Nadal, with Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Roddick in the mix, as well.

Roddick, who turned 27 on Sunday, has one Grand Slam title in 2003 and another defining moment his 16-14 fifth-set loss to Federer in the Wimbledon final earlier this summer.

But it takes more than one Grand Slam championship, more than a single player, to revive the sport throughout the entire country.

As much as anywhere else, the issue resonates here at Arthur Ashe Stadium, inside the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, home of America's Grand Slam, where Connors and McEnroe, Chrissy and Tracy Austin, ruled during a golden era that feels more like ancient history with each passing year.

On Sunday, the U.S. Tennis Association sponsored a teaching clinic on Court 11, with renowned teaching pro Mike Barrell touting the benefits of "QuickStart Tennis," a junior version of the game designed to lure kids into the sport. A big-picture goal: making sure the pipeline never goes dry or even close to dry again.

"I think it's going in the right direction," Roddick said. "I think even with younger kids going back to 14, 15, 16 years old in Florida, from what I hear, it's a lot more" organized.

That's the future.

The present belongs could belong, that is to guys like John Isner (ranked 55th), Donald Young (185), Jesse Levine (135). No. 25 seed Mardy Fish is on this list, too, but the 27-year-old withdrew Sunday with a rib injury.

And Querrey.

He stands 6-foot-6 and ranks third on tour with 696 aces this year, a stat that is allowing him to become more aggressive in his return game, as well, because he's more confident about holding serve.

He is 21-6 since Wimbledon and has played in four finals, including a victory in Los Angeles. He won the U.S. Open Series, a grouping of hard-court tournaments leading up to this week. That pushed his ranking from barely inside the top 50 to a career-best 22nd. It also earned him a chance for a $1 million bonus if he wins the Open.

His biggest win this summer was a 7-6 (11), 7-6 (3) victory over Roddick, one that may not signal Querrey is ready to rise all the way to the top, but certainly serves as a confidence builder.

"It also helps if you play Federer or Nadal," Querrey said. "Andy's beaten those guys. Hey, he did it, I beat him, why can't I beat those guys? So it kind of gives you that extra edge against them, too."

One other possible advantage? It could possibly come from "The Samurai," a group of kids mostly in college and mostly from California who dress up in outfits from "The Karate Kid," and bang gongs during his matches.

"Some of my friends are flying out and staying for the week," Querrey said. "So, they'll be out."

That certainly won't hurt.

Then again, if an American kid goes on a run at the U.S. Open, finding fans will be the least of his worries.