Win or Lose, Sock Enjoying Each Moment He’s On Court

Jack Sock (photo: Dallas Open/Alex Smith)

DALLAS/WASHINGTON, February 10, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Jack Sock was once labeled the next big star in American tennis. After all, early in his career he won four ATP singles titles – including the 2017 Rolex Paris Masters – but things started to come unraveled. In 2018, Sock went 9-22 in tour-level matches and didn’t achieve consecutive wins until the end of the season in Paris.

Then, in February 2019, Sock underwent surgery to repair two ligaments in his thumb. By November of the same year, he dropped off the FedEx ATP Rankings in singles after winning just one match. Sock did a lot of soul searching about whether the journey to regain his former form in singles was worth the time and effort. Others wondered if Sock should forgo singles and focus on becoming a doubles specialist. After all, he had been ranked as high as World No. 2, won 15 doubles titles, and became a mainstay each year playing doubles for Team World in the Laver Cup.

Fast forward to this week at the ATP 250 Dallas Open in North Texas, where the 147th-ranked Sock earned his first tour-level victory of the season with an impressive 6-4, 6-4 win over Oscar Otte of Germany in 81 minutes Tuesday afternoon. It was also Sock’s first win on Tour since last August at the US Open, when his five-set triumph against Alexander Bublik advanced him to the third round of a major for the first time since the Australian Open in 2017.

Against Otte, Sock won 87 percent (33 of 38) of his first-serve points, hit four aces and saved the only break point he faced, which didn’t occur until the final game of the match. The victory earned him a berth in Wednesday’s second round against Dallas Open No. 1 seed Taylor Fritz, a friend and fellow American – and a familiar foe, too.

“I wasn’t so proud of the [last] game. You always know it’s going to be tough to close it out,” Sock said during an on-court interview, explaining the challenges he faced during his final service game against the lanky German right-hander. “Fortunately, in the end the shank [return] went in on my side. To win [in] straight sets in the first round, under new conditions and in a new event … the crowd was awesome and behind me.”

The 29-year-old Sock, a native of Lincoln, Neb., has won two of his four ATP Tour titles in the United States. So, it should come as no surprise that he is enjoying a good week in Dallas, where half of the 28-player field is comprised of American players. Match by match, it seems, Sock is feeling more and more comfortable with the indoor, hard-court playing conditions at Styslinger/Altec Tennis Complex. Just as important, he welcomes being among longtime friends like John Isner, whom he is playing doubles with and has reached the quarterfinals, as well as having his wife Laura and coach Alex Bogomolov Jr., along helping him, too.

“Anytime you get on a new court, especially one that they lay down like this, it’s always different than a normal court we play on,” Sock said, “and it was awesome to get a win with one of my best buddies on the Tour.”

Now that the six-foot-three-inch Sock is free of serious injuries such as the torn pelvic muscle that required surgery in December 2014 and the broken thumb in February 2019, which sidelined him for six months and limited his play, he is starting to show signs of a return to form that saw him achieve a career-high ranking of No. 8 back in 2017. He’s already overcome a couple of early-season setbacks while beginning the 2022 season on the ATP Challenger Tour circuit. He tested positive for COVID-19 and had to pull out of a tournament in Columbus, Ohio, after reaching the quarterfinals. Then, the next week in Cleveland, he retired from a second-round match with an ankle problem.

Certainly, Sock has come a long way from being unranked in singles three years ago and having to rely upon the kindness of tournament directors in giving him wild cards into tournament main draws so that he could reconstruct his singles ranking. He’s made a lot of sacrifices on and off the court.

“Obviously, life’s different,” said Sock, who now resides in Charlotte, North Carolina, and serves as a volunteer assistant coach at Davidson College in his spare time. “My wife and I have our family with our dogs. I have a great team behind me.

“I’m playing more for myself now. I’m enjoying being out here. I think when you’re young and have success at [age] 17, you may not appreciate every moment.”

Indeed, Sock was undefeated in high school and and led his team to four Nebraska state championships. He was also a decorated junior player who won the 2010 US Open junior boys’ singles title and six years later won two Olympic medals at Rio, teaming with Bethanie Mattek-Sands to win the gold in mixed doubles and picking up a silver in men’s doubles with Steve Johnson.

“Sometimes, life happens fast for sure. Now, things are definitely a lot slower,” Sock admits. “Every time I come out on the court and play in front of a great crowd, I appreciate it more and more.”

After playing in front of appreciative crowds during the first two days of the tournament, Sock said that he looked forward to playing against Fritz, who is the top-ranked American at No. 19. They shared featured billing on Wednesday’s evening session along with an earlier match that paired No. 3 seed Isner against No. 101 Kevin Anderson of South Africa, won by Isner in three tie-break sets.

Sock gave it his best shot, but Fritz was dominant from the outset and won 6-1, 6-4 in an hour and seven minutes.

“[Taylor’s] playing some of the best tennis – if not the best tennis – of his career,” said Sock, who is now 2-3 lifetime against the 24-year-old Fritz after facing him for the first time since 2018. “We’ve known each other for a long time. We’ve played each other quite a few times. We know each other’s strategy. …

“Obviously, I’m the heavy underdog. I’ll go out and enjoy the moment,” Sock added. “I know I have to play well to win and have a chance. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

As it happened, Fritz won a tidy first set in 25 minutes on the strength of nine aces, by winning 100 percent (15 of 15) of his first-serve points, and breaking Sock’s serve twice. Then, he broke Sock in the fifth game and rode the advantage to his sixth victory of the young season in eight outings.

Fritz finished with 11 aces and dropped just four points on his first serve. He faced no break points. Sock managed a single ace and struggled to win points effectively on his first serve, finishing with a 54-percent (20 of 37) efficiency rating. His serve was broken three times. Fritz outpointed Sock 62-41 to advance into Friday’s quarterfinal round against No. 7 seed Marcos Giron of the United States.

Wednesday’s Dallas Open results

Thursday’s Dallas Open order of play

Isner-Anderson lives up to its star billing

No. 3 seed John Isner of the United States and South Africa’s Kevin Anderson renewed their long-standing rivalry Wednesday night that began when they were both collegiate players – Isner at the University of Georgia and Anderson at the University of Illinois – and it lived up to its featured billing before a packed house at the Styslinger/Altec Tennis Complex.

In their 13th career head-to-head meeting (with Isner leading the series 8-4) and first since their iconic six-hour-plus, five-set 2018 Wimbledon semifinal won by Anderson 26-24 in the fifth, the outcome was decided by three tie-break sets. At the conclusion of the two-hour and 30-minute match, it was Isner who won 7-6 (1), 6-7 (7), 7-6 (5). He wrapped up the victory on his fourth match-point opportunity and did it with a service winner that Anderson wasn’t able to successfully get a racquet on.

Surprisingly, it was the first time that Isner and Anderson had meet in an ATP Tour indoor match. With his latest victory, Isner leads Anderson 8-3 on hard courts, 7-3 in matches played in the U.S. and 10-7 in matches decided by tie breaks.

Both the 26th-ranked Isner and No. 101 Anderson came packing heat. They combined for 56 service aces – 30 by Isner and 26 from Anderson – and played 210 points. Isner outpointed Anderson 111-99. He faced no break points on his serve and Anderson saved the only break point he faced, which came in the fourth game of the opening set.

“For sure, it was difficult [to close it out],” Isner said during an interview with Tennis Channel afterward. “I had match point at 6-5 in the second-set tie break. I actually played a pretty good point and made [Kevin] come up with a really good volley. It was unfortunate not to win it there.

“I had it on my racquet at 7-6 and truth be told, the pressure got to me. I was dominating on serve all night. Missed my first serve and juiced my second serve just a little too much. I didn’t need to do that. I was winning second-serve points pretty comfortably and I was hitting my ground strokes well after my serve. That was really disappointing, but I knew that I was serving well and knew that there was a good chance I would hold [serve] in the third set and could take my chances in a tie-break – and that’s what I did. …

“This is a match I was a little more fortunate to win tonight.”

Next, Isner will play the winner of Thursday’s second-round match between No. 153 Jurij Rodionov of Austria and Canada’s Vasek Pospisil, ranked 150th, in the quarterfinal round on Friday.

Around the Dallas Open

• No. 5 seed Adrian Mannarino of France defeated 93rd-ranked Steve Johnson of the United States, 6-7 (2), 6-2, 7-6 (2) to reach the second round against No. 108 Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan. Mannarino hit 16 aces and won 82 percent (53 of 65) of his first-serve points. He saved all five break points he faced from Johnson and outpointed the American 104-92. It was Mannarino’s first win against an American opponent this season in four tries.

• No. 7 seed Marcos Giron of the United States rallied from a set down against Great Britain’s Liam Broady to win 3-6, 6-3, 6-1 in an hour and 40 minutes. Giron outpointed the 121st-ranked Broady 77-68 to advance to Friday’s quarterfinal round against No. 1 seed Taylor Fritz of the United States.

• No. 83 Jordan Thompson of Australia upset No. 8 seed Brandon Nakashima of the United States, 7-5, 7-6 (1), in back of 13 aces. He saved all eight break points he faced from the 82nd-ranked,  20-year-old American to advance to Friday’s quarterfinal round. It was Thompson’s first win against Nakashima after losing to him twice in 2021 at Los Cabos and Atlanta.

• Thirty-seven-year-old Tour veteran Andreas Seppi of Italy, ranked No. 100, advanced to the second round with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 win over No. 81 Daniel Altmaier of Germany, in which he outpointed his opponent 86-78 during the one-hour and 51-minute match. On Thursday, Seppi will face No. 4 seed Jenson Brooksby of the United States for a berth in the quarterfinal round against Thompson.

“Quotable …”

“I love giving back and sharing wisdom and knowledge that I have from playing on Tour. It’s a blast, we have fun.”

Jack Sock of the United States, who is serving as a volunteer assistant coach at Davidson College in North Carolina this season.