Jack Sock was down and very nearly out in his first match at the Paris Masters.
But Great Britain’s Kyle Edmund let the 25-year-old American back in after leading 6-4, 5-1 in their second-round match.
Four days – and four more matches – later, Sock went all the way to the title after a 5-7, 6-4, 6-1 win over qualifier Filip Krajinovic of Serbia Sunday.
With the victory, came several long-awaited milestones.
Sock stood at No. 24 in the race to the ATP Tour Finals at the beginning of the week. With the unlikely title, he squeezed into the eighth and final spot. So the American will play the year-end championships in London for the first time.
“Where to begin? This week is an incredible moment for me, especially the way it stated, being down big in my first match and being able to battle through that one,” Sock said during the trophy ceremony.
It is Sock’s first career Masters 1000 title. Not only that, he will jump into the top 10 in the ATP Tour rankings for the first time. He also will end the 2017 season as the No. 1-ranked American male.
“I’ve had a lot of firsts in Paris,” Sock said. “A lot going on right now, emotionally, and I can’t wait to enjoy it all with my team.”
In the bigger picture, the victory resulted in more milestones. Sock is the first American to qualify for London since Mardy Fish in 2011. He’s the first American Masters 1000 tournament champion since Andy Roddick won Miami in 2010. He’s the first American to jump into the top 10 in the rankings since John Isner on May 5, 2014.
And in the even bigger picture, Sock is the first non-European to win either a Grand Slam title, a Masters 1000 tournament or the ATP Tour Finals since that win by Roddick. That dubious streak ends at 107 consecutive tournaments.
Long road to the top 10
It takes more time than ever these days to morph from a top junior into a top player on the world scene. Well, for most players it does; as always, there are exceptions. But it seems to take the Americans even more time than some.
Part of it is that, as a group, they take less well to the extensive travel and ever-changing conditions on Tour. Nearly all of them grew up on hard courts. And the extensive swings abroad don’t agree with many of them. They prefer the comforts of home.
Sam Querrey had the best season of his career only this year, at age 29, and likely will be an alternate in London.
It’s perhaps a little more than a coincidence that 2008 US Open junior champion Coco Vandeweghe and Sock, the 2010 US Open junior boys’ champion, both will hit the top 10 for the first time on Monday, at age 25.
Sock is already widely considered the most talented doubles player in the world at the moment. And that remains true even if he rarely plays doubles these days. He won the Wimbledon doubles title in 2014, at age 21, with Canadian Vasek Pospisil in their first tournament together as a duo.
The American doubles gold standard, the Bryan brothers, feel that way. So does Canadian Daniel Nestor, who has 91 career titles on the doubles court. Nestor told Tennis.Life earlier in the season that he considered Sock the best. “He can win with with anybody,” he said.
What that means, fundamentally, is that Sock is far more than just the guy with the big serve and the howitzer forehand with the Nadal-like spin revolutions. Those two elements are the basics of the modern game. But Sock is capable of doing far more.
It’s just that he’s taken his sweet time to put it together.
The perception – accurate or not, and maybe coloured by his casual, all-American on-court personality – is that he hasn’t cared enough, or worked hard enough on his fitness.
Game-changing moment for Sock
But there was that moment during the match against Krajinovic Sunday that might, in retrospect, go down as the moment where it all clicked. Maybe it was the moment that Sock himself finally believed he could do big things.
After coming back to even the match at one set all, at 1-1 in the third set, Sock hit back-to-back shots that he may not even have thought himself capable of.
The first was a running backhand passing shot down the line. Sock’s backhand is definitely the weak link in his game. Making that shot, at that moment, was significant.
He followed it up with another passing shot that broke Krajinovic’s spirit. This time, it was a running forehand stab down the line.
Krajinovic had serve-volleyed on that point, pulling Sock out wide to make a one-handed slice return. He then volleyed on the backhand within safe distance of the deuce-side sideline. It should have been enough; at this stage, it didn’t seem as though Sock would have the legs or the will to track it down.
But he did. And he hit the pass without his usual extreme forehand grip. He hit it with very nearly an old-school continental grip, and he made it.
The reaction was not a scream, or a fist pump. Sock appeared stunned.
He didn’t lose another game.
There were several other players in Paris who had a shot at that final London spot with a good run. Sam Querrey, Pablo Carreño Busta, Juan Martin del Potro and Sock’s countryman John Isner all balked at a key hurdle somewhere along the way. He did not.
The American will have a week to rest up the body before taking on the best (healthy) players in the game in London.
And now, he is playing with house money.
There are so many big names missing from the Tour Finals this year. Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Kei Nishikori, Stan Wawrinka, Milos Raonic, all of whom were there a year ago, are out with injuries. Rafael Nadal’s right knee makes him a question mark.
Who knows how far Sock can go?
In the end, though, the biggest thing is that Sock finally may believe that not only does he belong with the world’s best, he can be even better than he already is. If this week in Paris does anything, it might have given him a thirst for even bigger things.
(Screenshots, except where otherwise noted, from TennisTV).