Sock Secures London Berth With First Masters 1000 Crown
Entering the week, Jack Sock was sitting at 24th in the Emirates ATP Race To London. He was so far back that he did not even know he had a chance to qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals. Everything had to fall his way for him to make London. And everything did.
Sock claimed his maiden ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title on Sunday at the Rolex Paris Masters, assuring himself a place in the final eight at The O2. He defeated Filip Krajinovic 5-7, 6-4, 6-1 for the victory in just under two hours.
It will be a day Sock never forgets. Not only does the 25-year-old book his spot at the season finale for the first time and lift his biggest trophy in Paris, but he is guaranteed to finish the year as the top American, making his Top 10 debut in the Emirates ATP Rankings.
“There have been a lot of firsts," Sock said during the trophy ceremony. "It started at the French Open with my first fourth round of a Slam, now I’ve won my first Masters 1000 in Paris, this will be my first time in the Top 10 and this will be the first time making the year-end [Nitto ATP] Finals. So there’s a lot going on right now emotionally and I can't wait to enjoy it all with my team.”
Sock is the first American to lift a singles trophy at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 level since Andy Roddick in Miami in 2010. The win snaps the streak of 69 consecutive Masters 1000 titles won by Europeans. The Nebraska native is also the first from the United States to prevail in Paris since Andre Agassi in 1999 and he is the first from his country to appear at the Nitto ATP Finals in six years, when Mardy Fish concluded his 2011 campaign in London.
"It definitely hasn't sunk in yet. I don't know when it will. Right now I want to enjoy it with my team. They've been with me through everything. I'm excited to see my family and just enjoy it with everyone.
"I'd be lying if I said that 18 months ago I was mentally prepared to win matches like this. It's something I've worked really hard towards. It's something that, if you put your nose down and keep fighting, good things will happen. Crazy things can happen. That's sports and that's why we play."
Krajinovic looked to be the fresher of the two competitors as proceedings got underway at the AccorHotels Arena. But both players succumbed to nerves in the first set, with the biggest title of their careers on the line. Sock handed Krajinovic a break for 4-2 with a double fault and would break right back after the Serbian tossed in a pair of double faults of his own. But as he did in Saturday's clutch victory over Isner, Krajinovic held his nerve in the latter stages, earning another break for the set.
Sock did well to immediately stop the turn in momentum as the second set got underway, breaking in the opening game as a wayward backhand by Krajinovic gave the 16th seed the lead. And as Sock discovered his range off both wings, Krajinovic's forehand began to misfire.
The final would proceed to a decider, where Sock produced a moment of magic from the back of the court to take the decisive lead. A running backhand winner down-the-line, with the ball diving to his shoelaces, gave him a break point at 1-all. And he would replicate the shot from his forehand wing in the very next point, digging a majestic passing shot off a dipping volley from Krajinovic. Another backhand winner would hand an insurance break to Sock and the American seized his first championship point after one hour and 58 minutes.
Sock fired nine aces and claimed 79 per cent of first serve points for the victory. It marked the third time he rallied from a set down this week, having overcame Kyle Edmund from a 1-5 final set deficit in his opening match. On Friday, he also stormed back to defeat Fernando Verdasco in three gripping sets. It marked the American's second FedEx ATP Head2Head win over Krajinovic, three years removed from a semi-final encounter at the ATP Challenger Tour event in Savannah, U.S.A.
How improbable was Sock's London qualification? The American himself never anticipated it, having made plans for a round of golf with close friend John Isner at famed Augusta National, home of The Masters tournament.
"I had a golf trip with Isner next week in Augusta, which would have been pretty special, but I'll look forward to seeing him at his wedding in a couple months," Sock added. "I wish I could have played him in the final today and have that as a special moment as well."
In total, Sock notched a career-best third title of the year, having prevailed on the hard courts of Auckland in January and Delray Beach in February. He concludes his Emirates ATP Race To London campaign with 3,765 points, edging Pablo Carreno Busta, who occupied the eighth and final spot for the majority of the week. With Carreno Busta, Isner, Sam Querrey, Kevin Anderson, Juan Martin del Potro, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Lucas Pouille, Roberto Bautista Agut and Albert Ramos-Vinolas all failing to reach the final, the door swung wide open for Sock to secure his place at The O2 and he did not disappoint.
Meanwhile, Krajinovic delivered one of the feel-good stories of 2017 in the final week of the ATP World Tour regular season. A qualifier competing in just his second tour-level event of the year, he reached the Paris final in what was just his fifth Masters 1000 main draw appearance.
Less than two years after undergoing surgery to remove a bone in his right wrist, the Comeback Player of the Year candidate in the 2017 ATP Awards presented by Moët & Chandon, enjoyed his date with destiny in the French capital. At No. 77 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, he is the lowest-ranked player to contest a Masters 1000 title match since World No. 191 Andrei Pavel in Paris in 2003.
"It's been an amazing week with a lot of good wins," said Krajinovic. "From qualies I beat so many good guys, with a better [Emirates ATP Ranking] than me. So it's all positive coming home, having holidays finally after playing so many matches this year. I'm sad I didn't finish it stronger but that's the tennis. Somebody has to win and he was better today.
"I know that I will work even more right now. That's for sure. Pressure is part of the sport. Everybody has pressure in life. Of course, I am going to have more. People will expect more from me right now. They see I can do it. But if I want to be better, I have to handle that. So I will work on that also. So I hope next year will be better."
Despite falling just short of lifting the trophy, he will hold his head high after making a seamless transition back to the ATP World Tour. Krajinovic, who owns an ATP Challenger Tour leading five crowns and 47 match wins this year, takes home 600 Emirates ATP Rankings points and €418,450 in prize money.