KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. — As Sam Querrey left the court Tuesday, two youngsters cradling huge stuffed tennis balls leaned over a first-row railing, hoping for an autograph from the highest-ranked American in men’s tennis.
Querrey, head down, kept walking. He was gone in a hurry at the Sony Open.
Playing his first tournament as the No. 1 American on the ATP Tour, Querrey lasted only 50 minutes in the fourth round and lost to Tomas Berdych, 6-1, 6-1. His elimination means that for the first time, the 28-year-old tournament will have no American in the men’s quarterfinals.
The shutout is the latest sign of declining fortunes for U.S. tennis.
“I guess you could say it’s been somewhat of the norm the last couple of years,” Querrey said. “It’s not like we had guys in the quarters week in, week out.”
American results on the women’s side have been better lately, thanks mostly to No. 1-ranked Serena Williams. The five-time Key Biscayne champion advanced to Thursday’s semifinals and tied the women’s record for career victories in the tournament by beating No. 5-seeded Li Na 6-3, 7-6 (5).
While Williams continues to dominate the WTA Tour, last year no American man reached a Grand Slam quarterfinal. The outlook wasn’t helped by the retirement of Andy Roddick, whose 2003 U.S. Open championship is the most recent major title by a U.S. male.
Querrey was playing his first tournament as the top American, and he managed his best showing in eight appearances at Key Biscayne, aided by a walkover in the third round. His serve and forehand let him down against Berdych, however. The 6-foot-6 Querrey came into tournament second on the tour in aces this year, but he had only four against Berdych, and made only 39 percent of his first serves.
“Just one of those awful days,” Querrey said. “The more you miss, the harder it gets to get the ball in. It just kept getting worse.”
No. 2 Andy Murray, the champion in 2009 and runner-up last year, returned to the quarterfinals by beating No. 16 Andreas Seppi 6-2, 6-4. No. 8 Richard Gasquet hit 17 aces, including three in the final tiebreaker, and advanced to his first Key Biscayne quarterfinal by beating No. 10 Nicolas Almagro 6-7 (3), 7-5, 7-6 (3).
No. 3 David Ferrer beat No. 13 Kei Nishikori 6-4, 6-2. Ferrer’s next opponent will be unseeded Jurgen Melzer, who rallied past Albert Ramos 2-6, 6-3, 6-3.
Querrey will remain No. 1 in the United States next week and stay close to his current ranking of 20th. Last week he overtook fellow American John Isner, who is ranked 23rd and lost in the third round Monday.
But Querrey, 25, wants more. He has yet to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal in 24 tries, he’s 11-37 against top-10 players, and he has reached only one final since 2010.
He realizes some might see his U.S. ranking as tainted, given the nation’s rich tradition of tennis achievement.
“The goal is not to be the No. 1 American,” Querrey said. “I want to be one of the best players in the world.
“I know the U.S.,” Querrey said. “We get ripped a lot for not having a lot of guys in the top 20. If we were to win a Davis Cup, I think that would silence some people even if we didn’t have guys in the top 10 or even a few guys in the top 20.”
Williams was the lone U.S. woman to reach the final eight. When she smacked a winner on match point to seal the victory over Li, she jumped for joy cannonball-style, knees high and fist raised.
“I don’t usually leap like that in the quarterfinal,” Williams said. “But it was just a good shot.”
She improved to 59-7 in the tournament. Steffi Graf, another five-time champion, went 59-6.