At least next year the L.A. Tennis Open men's event should have its defending champion in the draw.
Sam Querrey, a rising 21-year-old who was playing in his third final in three weeks, did something different this time. He won the thing.
After being a runner-up in Newport, R.I., and Indianapolis, and playing in front of an enthusiastic group of former high school buddies who call themselves "The Samurai," Querrey beat qualifier Carsten Ball, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, on Sunday.
Querrey won $100,000, his second ATP Tour title and a ranking that will reach a career-best 26th today. Plus, he said, he will come back next year.
Instead the final, played in front of 6,177 at the Los Angeles Tennis Center at UCLA, featured Ball, who was ranked No. 205 in the world and who had never won an ATP Tour-level singles match before this week, and Querrey, who is living the life of being marked as "the next great American player," though he hasn't gone past the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament event.
Such is that burden that after winning here over a relatively undistinguished field, Querrey was asked whether he was ready to win the U.S. Open. Querrey gave the right answer. "No player plans to do his best and get to the fourth round," he said. That's neither a yes nor a no.
Even Querrey admitted that the quality of tennis Sunday by both he and Ball, who is an Australian left-hander who has been reared almost exclusively in Newport Beach and who was a high school star at Corona del Mar, was "not the highest level."
Still, Querrey was able to overcome his disappointment at losing the second set -- on the changeover after he lost it he gave himself an angry lecture while sitting on a chair under an umbrella -- and pound the rapidly tiring Ball with a strong serve and penetrating forehand.
And he defended the rowdy behavior of his "Samurai" supporters who had earned the criticism of the tournament's top-ranked player, Tommy Haas, on Saturday night. After Haas had suggested Querrey might quiet down his supporters a bit, Querrey did shush the group of young men who came bare-chested with the letters "S.A.M.U.R.A.I." painted on their bodies when they heckled Ball on a missed serve.
At last week's event in Indianapolis, where Querrey had been runner-up, the tournament subsidized the "Samurai's" travel and Querrey suggested maybe someone in Japan might want to offer a clothing contract to the headband-wearing group.
Unlike Haas, Ball said he wasn't bothered by the noisy group. He was just a little wiped out after playing through the qualifier and into the finals. "I'm pretty tired," said Ball, who will be on a plane to Vancouver today to play in a challenger event. Scrambling after ranking points is still Ball's life.
Querrey's goal is to be one of the top 32 seeded players at the U.S. Open, a spot he just about guaranteed with his win. After losing in two straight finals, Querrey said he would have been "bummed" had he lost again on a Sunday. The Samurai probably wouldn't have been happy either.