This was a big moment for sixth-seeded Sam Querrey, trying to consolidate a service break at the same time he had to serve for the match against top-seeded Tommy Haas on Saturday night in the semifinals of the L.A. Tennis Open.
On his first three points, Querrey botched a forehand and muffed a volley while going down triple break point. But moments later, helped by a massive forehand winner and a couple of giant serves, Querrey had advanced to his third straight tournament final with a 6-3, 7-5 win over two-time former champion Haas, the 31-year-old from Germany.
In today's 2 p.m. final, Querrey will play an unlikely opponent, Carsten Ball, an Australian citizen but a lifelong resident of Newport Beach.
Ball, 22, whose professional career so far has been relatively undistinguished, has gone from qualifier to finalist in a week. Ball won his semifinal at the Los Angeles Tennis Center at UCLA on Saturday afternoon, 7-5, 7-6 (3), over Argentina's Leonardo Mayer.
Haas said he never felt comfortable on the court Saturday night, and he also gave a gentle nudge to a raucous group of Querrey fans who call themselves "The Samurai." Haas said they hooted inappropriately on missed serves and errors.
"I don't like when people don't have respect," Haas said. "But that's for Sam to make a call, whatever he feels is right. But this wasn't the fifth set of the U.S. Open. I thought it was unnecessary."
Querrey, though, said the Samurai were "awesome" and suggested maybe Haas could relax. "They were just fired up," Querrey said. "It's the semifinals, a night match. That's why tennis isn't more popular."
Haas had no quarrel with Querrey's tennis. He gave credit to the 21-year-old who grew up in Thousand Oaks. "His serve is a weapon," Haas said, "and he has a big forehand. He's moving well."
Querrey, who is 6 feet 6, has made a concentrated effort over the last year to improve his court speed by doing track work, running 200- and 400-meter sets. "I've always thought I moved well," Querrey said, "but I'm probably moving better."
Ball, who is 6-5, and Querrey played "about 10 times," Querrey said, in various junior events. Querrey beat Ball in the final of the 2005 Easter Bowl, one of the most prestigious junior events. But they've never met on a stage quite like this.
Ball's father, Syd Ball, also played here. He once lost in the second round of the L.A. Open to Harold Solomon and in the first round to Brian Fairlie.
While Syd Ball speaks with a full Australian accent, Carsten was born and raised in Newport Beach, playing for Corona del Mar High. He has been commuting here from his parents' Newport Beach home.
"I think conditions here suit my game," Ball said. "The court bounces high and fast enough for me to play aggressively and it's always good to be at home, sleep in your own bed. So I'll take L.A. traffic every day."
Ball's trip to the final almost ended before it started. During qualifying he tweaked a muscle in his back. Late in the day he was hurt, Ball said, "I wasn't able to hit a backhand." Some massage worked wonders.
Today's featured matches
At the Los Angeles Tennis Center at UCLA:
At noon, Straus Stadium
Doubles final: Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan vs. Benjamin Becker and Frank Moser
At 2 p.m.
Singles final: Sam Querrey vs. Carsten Ball