Struggling in singles, Sock doubles … up

NEW YORK – Assuming he’s healthy, which it appears he is, American Jack Sock is having a crisis of confidence in singles.

He’s still in the top 20 – for now. And in fact, he’ll move up one spot to No. 17 on Monday after meekly going out in the second round of the US Open singles.

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But he is salvaging his season in a major way, as the best possible substitute Mike Bryan could have asked for after his twin Bob underwent hip surgery.

Sock and Bryan are the US Open men’s doubles champions, after defeating No. 7 seeds Lukasz Kubot of Poland and Marcelo Melo of Brazil 6-3, 6-1 in the final Friday.

“I think this was the best match we have played together, and we picked a good time to do it. You know, Jack hit some monstrous forehands. I think our average speed on shots was 84 (mph), and I’m hitting the ball in the 60s. Who’s the guy that’s bringing that up? It’s Jack. He had one at 111,” Bryan said.

They add that trophy to the one they won just two months ago, at Wimbledon. It’s the first time in 15 years that the same pair has won both.

“I tend to smile a lot more in doubles than singles and tend to put a lot less pressure on myself, for sure. And I think, as my coach is making fun of me back here, if I could translate that maybe over to singles and maybe have somewhat of that same mentality of playing loose and just enjoying, you know, every moment of it, then hopefully I can accomplish some of these things in singles,” Sock said.

“But I know the level I can play. I showed a lot of it last year. I think it’s just going to keep taking the team effort with the guys I have around me, and they are keeping me positive, keeping me motivated; I’m doing a lot of the right things. As long as I keep doing that, as I keep saying, it’s very close. And I was happy to at least get a win here and not keep the losing streak going, so I’ll take that, as well, confidence going forward and get ready for the fall.”

Oldest ever, but forever young

At 40, Mike Bryan is the oldest man to win a Grand Slam doubles title. That’s a record he could conceivably keep breaking as he expects Bob back for 2019. He also is the oldest-ever No. 1-ranked doubles player. Ditto.

For Sock, it’s a new career high in doubles at No. 2. His previous high was No. 6, back in May 2015 when he was still playing regularly with Canadian Vasek Pospisil (the two won Wimbledon together in 2014).

He began the season at No. 39, playing doubles somewhat regularly but always having it take a back seat to his singles career.

After just five tournaments together, they will rocket to No. 4 in the team rankings and will make the year-end Tour Finals in London. They are the defacto No. 3 team, as the actual No. 3s are the Bryan twins.

It is the sixth US Open doubles title for Mike, with the first five (obviously) coming with brother Bob. And it is his 120th career title.

It also puts him at the top of the list, in terms of Grand Slam doubles titles in the open era. He began 2018 tied with his brother at 16, one behind John Newcombe. Now, he stands alone.

“I think it comes down to playing the big matches well. Jack is a big match player. He always plays his best. He’s done it through his junior career. I don’t think you have lost a Grand Slam final. So he steps up when it really matters. When we lost in Cincinnati, he was, like, ‘We’re Grand Slam players’. I’m, like, ‘All right. Let’s see what we got.’

“He showed it today. He just played amazing. You know, it wasn’t easy early. At Wimbledon we struggled, had some long matches, down match points. I was still adjusting to the deuce court and to his style of play. He plays a different brand that I have never seen on my side before. So now it feels comfortable,” he added. “It’s just a blast. I mean, from the locker room, from practices, to winning these trophies, it’s just been a great ride.”

Best in the world? Nestor thinks so

The legendary Daniel Nestor said recently that Jack Sock was the best doubles player in the world. Why, Nestor was asked? Because he can win with anyone.

Mike Bryan, of course, is not anyone. But Sock played the ad side while Mike, who almost always plays the ad side with lefty Bob playing the deuce side (except, back in the day, when they wanted to change things up during a period they had a ton of trouble beating Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic), moved over.

Sock now has 13 titles. Four came with Pospisil, two with John Isner and now two with Bryan. He also has earned trophies with Nick Kyrgios, Nicholas Monroe, James Blake, Marcel Granollers and … Jackson Withrow.

“I was talking to my team and coach, especially, and I was not planning on playing doubles at Wimbledon. But after, you know, the unfortunate injury with Bob, obviously I talked to him a little bit and I said, If there’s a chance Mike contacts me, what would you say about that? I think that’s a special circumstance and occasion,” Sock said. “My coach said, ‘He’s the one guy I’d let you play with if he calls you or texts you.’ Soon after, I got the call or the text, you know, and a very quick yes from me.”

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