September 27, 2023

Open Court


Jack Sock salvages season in Paris

It’s the final week of the ATP Tour regular season.

So it’s the last opportunity for Jack Sock to salvage what he can from a flat-out horrible season.

And out of nowhere, the American has done just that. He’s taken advantage of some draw luck, and found some vintage form to reach the Paris Masters quarterfinals.

A year ago, Sock was the surprise champion in Paris.

And on the strength of the 1,000 points he earned for that win, he qualified for the ATP Tour Finals in London.

There, he reached the semifinals, and a career-high ranking of No. 8.

Bad start, bad season

But fast-forward 12 months, and the picture isn’t pretty.

Sock won the Paris Masters in 2017, and had a lot of ranking points to defend this year. (TennisTV)

Coming into Paris to defend his title, Sock had yet to post back-to-back match wins all season.

If something didn’t turn around – tout de suite, as the French say – he was looking at being unseeded in the Australian Open qualifying in January.

A year ago, Sock was the No. 9 player in the world in Melbourne, and the No. 8 seed.

Bt he lost in the first round, in four sets, to No. 41 Yuichi Sugita of Japan.

That kicked off a year during which the American lost his first or second match in every tournament he played. That included seven consecutive first-round losses from the French Open tuneup event in Lyon, France in May until he walked into the US Open in late August.

An encouraging finale

“Honestly, right now, any win is a big win for me confidence-wise. It was a long, tough year. I don’t have a ton of expectations coming into his week, so it might help, with all the points I’m defending,” Sock said coming into Paris.

After a first-round bye in Paris, his No. 16 seed the final legacy of that great 2017 run, Sock came up against a player against whom he was 3-0 in his career, France’s Richard Gasquet.

Gasquet had looked fresh and eager and played brilliantly in his first-round match against Canadian up-and-comer Denis Shapovalov. But Sock handled him in straight sets.

“Playing a lot of Fortnite, playing golf, anything to get my mind off of it. It’s already a tough sport, tough career, travelling all the time, being away from everyone at home. It can get lonely at times. And on top of that pretty much losing every match you play, when you know the level you can play, it’s extra demoralizing,” Sock said of his struggles, after the win over Gasquet.

“There’s a lot of things that have gone on, and I’ve finally gotten it back to where it last year, and I think that tennis showed today.”

And then, a little luck

Rafael Nadal, who hadn’t played since the US Open because of a knee injury, planned to return in Paris. But he withdrew at the last minute because of an abdominal issue. And then, lucky loser Malek Jaziri upset Fernando Verdasco as a substitute in that second-round match.

Sock had similar records against both. But Verdasco is the superior player.

And the American put up another impressive performance in dispatching Jaziri Thursday, including a 6-0 first set.

With that, he’s in the quarterfinals.

He’ll play No. 6 seed Dominic Thiem of Austria Friday.

A happy Sock takes a selfie with fans after beating Malek Jaziri Thursday in Paris (TennisTV)

Right on the main draw line

As it stands now, Sock has put himself in a position where he’ll be on the cusp of making the Australian Open main draw via direct entry – a huge upgrade over the worst-case scenario he envisioned when he arrived in Paris.

In the live ATP Tour rankings, Sock stands at No. 105 with one player who could still pass him. The top 104 players gain direct entry in Melbourne. So he’s right there.

But that doesn’t take into account any player who wants to enter with an injury-protected ranking. There could be as many as a half-dozen of those, and they would bump Sock down the list.

Close to packing it in

“I definitely had some very low mental moments. I’m honestly surprised I”m still even playing right now – this year. Thought about packing it in a few times and just regrouping. I was getting to the point where I wasn’t even happy on the court, and I wasn’t really enjoying tennis that much,” Sock said. “I was very close a few times to flying home. But coaches and people kind of said, ‘If you can catch fire one week, you’ll be happy you stayed around.’ “

Sock hadn’t caught fire when he spoke those words. But no doubt he’s happy he stayed around.

If Sock can defeat Thiem, he’ll end up around No. 70 in the world and won’t have to worry about qualifying, which he hasn’t played since he was a 20-year-old at Wimbledon in 2013.

But if he can’t, there’s still another option.

Sock will lead USTA Wild-Card Challenge

The U.S. Tennis Association is awarding the main draw wild card it trades with the Australian Open to the player who posts the best results over the next three weeks.

Unlike the women, who have to earn those ranking points in smaller ITF-level tournaments in the U.S., the men have a wider range of choices – including ATP events.

So Sock’s efforts in Paris could pay dividends.

The combination of a player’s best two results will count. And Sock has already earned 180 ranking points with his Paris quarterfinal.

The majority of the players vying for that wild card are playing the Challenger circuit in the U.S. Winning the title at the $75,000 event in Charlottesville this week, for example, is only worth 80 points.

The ATP Challenger in Houston, a tournament offering twice that much prize money, will offer 125 points to the champion.

The way it stands, one of the other American contenders would have to win Charlottesville this week or Knoxville next week – and then win the Houston Challenger to pass Sock. Making the Houston final wouldn’t be good enough.

That would take some doing.

In the worst-case scenario, Sock could ask for a wild card into one of the events, to earn some additional points to seal the deal.

Or, he could beat Thiem on Friday.

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