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By Richard Pagliaro | Thursday, November 16, 2017

 
Jack Sock

Roaring back from a break down in the final set, Jack Sock stopped Alexander Zverev, 6-4, 1-6, 6-4, charging into the World Tour Finals semifinals.

Photo credit: @ATP World Tour Finals

LONDON—Jack Sock brought showtime to the O2 Arena—and made American tennis relevant again at the season-ending finale.

Roaring back from a break down in the final set, a spirited Sock stopped Alexander Zverev, 6-4, 1-6, 6-4, charging into the Nitto ATP Finals semifinals.

Federer: Top Spot Close, But Far Away

The man nicknamed "J-Sizzle" survived a second-set fizzle—dropping seven of eight games and incurring a point penalty for slamming a ball into the upper deck—but regained his focus and fired his flamethrower forehand with accuracy and ambition as Zverev crumbled in the final stages.

"I enjoyed being on the court," said Sock, who scored his seventh win in his last eight matches. "With the pressure I was putting on myself, I wasn't having the fun times that I had at the beginning of the year and in the past. I think once I did that, I think now the tennis that I'm playing is showing much more."

Sock saved 10 of 14 break points and showed superior net skills and finesse defeating the world No. 3 for the second time in three meetings. 

A disconsolate Zverev offered a dramatically different take on the outcome.

"Yeah, I choked," Zverev said. "It's quite easy. Won the second set, 6-1. I was 1-0 with a break. He got a point penalty. I was down 1-4 within 10 minutes where I didn't put many balls in the court. When I got back to 4-5, that's one of the worst games I think I played all year.

"So, yeah, I just choked."

Asked his reaction to Zverev's blunt assessment, Sock, who spotted Zverev standing at the back of the press room doing a German television interview, quipped with a sheepish smile: "Really bad time to ask that question."

Pausing to allow Zverev to exit, Sock said: "Is the door closed? He said he thought he choked and didn't play well at the end?

"I mean, it's tough. The guy is 20 years old. He's played some absolutely outstanding tennis in his career. I mean, (he) can't even legally drink a beer in the U.S. and he's 3 in the world, playing like he is."

Sock, who was 24th in the Race to London when he arrived at the Paris Masters, captured his first Masters championship in the City of Light to sneak into the World Tour Finals. The last player to qualify for London is playing with the free spirit of a man intent on enjoying every second of his stay.

"Obviously, like I said all week, I'm kind of playing with house money," Sock said. "I'm going out there and kind of letting loose, having fun, trying to put on a show a little bit, just enjoy my time."

The 25-year-old Sock is the first American to reach the season-ending semifinals since fellow Nebraska native Andy Roddick did it a decade ago.

"Obviously Nebraska is the best place for tennis players," Sock said provoking laughter among the media. "No, I think it's cool, two guys from Nebraska, the last two to do it. Like I just said back there, I'm obviously proud of myself and going to enjoy the moment and getting out there this weekend and competing again.

"I think for American tennis as a whole, I hope in the future that it's not just one guy playing here at the end of the year, I hope it's a group of us, a clump of us fighting, competing against each other, which is fun. We're all good friends."

The Paris Masters champion will take on Cincinnati Masters champion Grigor Dimitrov in Saturday’s semifinal clash of World Tour Finals debutants.

Though Sock’s twisting topspin forehand is his best weapon, he showed the entire shot spectrum tonight, digging out some deft drop volleys, using the no-pace slice to make the 6’6” German bend low, poking a one-handed backhand pass down the line and rocketing a couple of balls sky-high into the upper deck.




Hammering his vicious forehand with vigor, Sock sometimes sent Zverev moving backward in anticipation of the big blow. The ninth-ranked American used it to his advantage carving out a forehand drop shot winner to close the opening set in 42 minutes more than doubling Zverev’s winner output (12 to 5).

Chattering more frequently to his box—father Alexander and former world No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero—Zverev vented and then got right back to business. Drilling deeper drives he banged out the break in the second game and consolidated for 3-0.

Like his buddy and sometime doubles partner Nick Kyrgios, the man nicknamed "J-Sizzle" sometimes exhibits a compulsion for the showtime shot. Sock played the unnecessary tweener lob that barely missed the mark in dropping serve again in the fourth game.

The 20-year-old German stamped a love hold stretching his lead to 5-0 closing the 27-minute second set winning 10 of 17 points played on Sock’s serve.

Essentially capitulating the second set, Sock left the court for a bathroom break but couldn’t flush the struggles away. Missing a forehand down the line to drop serve in the opening game of the decider, Sock compounded his problems belting a ball in frustration high into the 400-level seats.

“Come on Jack, get it back!” came an urgent plea from a fan upstairs.

The second ball abuse penalty of the night—and his third of the tournament—cost Sock a point penalty. Sock may well lead the Tour in slamming souvenir balls into the crowd.

Despite the donation, Zverev turned in a clunker of a service game with a double fault and netted forehand gifting the break right back. Sock held with an exquisite backhand drop volley winner.

Digging out a tremendous low volley while streaking forward, Sock earned a third break point. When Zverev coughed up his second double fault of the game, Sock broke again for 3-1.

Playing exclusively to the American’s weaker backhand wing, Zverev drew the error breaking back for 3-4 after an hour and 42 minutes.

Serving to extend the match at 4-5, a tight Zverev unraveled. Zverev clanked his eighth double fault to face match point then steered a forehand down the line wide to end a one hour, 53-minute match.

"Yeah, it's been an awesome year," Zverev said. "Still, the end of the year was absolute crap for me. If I would have played the whole year like I did, by the end of the year I don't think I would have finished top 50. Yeah, that's a bit unfortunate for me.

"But that's okay. I'm going to go on holidays now. I'm definitely going to enjoy that. Then I'm going to work hard in the off-season."

When it was over, Sock stood motionless for a second as if soaking in the moment. Then he blew kisses toward his box, girlfriend Michala Burns and brother Eric Sock before winding up and hurling a huge fist pump toward an appreciative crowd.

Sock will try to keep the fight going against the sixth-ranked Dimitrov. Sock has won three of their four meetings, including fending off four match points in a pulsating 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7) victory at Indian Wells en route to his first Masters 1000 semifinal.

Asked if he can take the title, Sock replied: "Why not?"

"I played Grigor a few times," Sock said. "He got me early on when we played. I've been able to get some wins against him. Obviously I think he's a little bit different player since the last time I played him. I think he's really kind of found his game, what exactly he wants to do out there. It's showing throughout the year. He's playing deep into tournaments almost every week, really establishing himself in the top 10, maybe in top 5 now, I'm not sure.

"But once again, I'm playing with a lot of confidence as well coming off Paris, playing here, winning some of my matches, getting into the semis. You never know what can happen."

 

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