Friday at the BNP Paribas Open was a day of firsts for America’s top-ranked man, Jack Sock. He earned his first win over a top five player, taking out Kei Nishikori. The victory also put Sock in the semis of an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event for the first time after 26 prior attempts.
The Nishikori match was a three-setter, Sock winning 6-3, 2-6, 6-2. All four of his matches have gone three sets. In the third round, versus Grigor Dimitrov, Sock saved four match points. Given all the drama Sock has fought through so far, he should hopefully be quite relaxed versus Roger Federer in the semis.
Then again, for many years, Sock’s blend of relaxation and intensity made watching him rather beguiling. There was the forehand, big beyond belief, fizzing with more topspin and speed than just about any shot in the game. But there was also a heavily patchy aspect to Sock’s tennis, everything from consistency and movement to fitness and mental toughness raising questions if the man from Nebraska could be a sustainable contender.
But the last six months have seen Sock enter a new phase. From October 3 to November 4 last year, he played 33 singles and doubles matches. There followed a committed off-season training regimen. This year, Sock’s taken singles titles at two smaller events, Auckland and Delray Beach.
As the pieces of his game begin to come together, Sock might well be birthing a new kind of playing style: 21st century feel tennis. The dynamic Sock forehand is not struck with the linear, flat speed of, say, Tomas Berdych. Instead, Sock’s shots roll, jump, the crackle of his drive expanding the dimensions of the court. Enhancing the case for Sock as a feel player: his sweet hands at the net, where he comfortably strikes angles and drop volleys. The serve is also multi-dimensional, Sock taking big swings to hit it flat or with excessive spin. Armed with his loosely strung racquet and bold attitude, Sock will surely see what happened at Indian Wells this year as a breakthrough.