NEW YORK—Trudging through the thick air on Court 11, a sweat-soaked Jack Sock plopped into his court-side seat and began chomping on a banana. At that point, it looked like smelling salts might be a better option for the depleted American.
Surrendering serve three times and managing just 10 points in a dispirited second-set, Sock looked thoroughly disinterested in the fight. Shaking some life into his legs, Sock withstood three break points late in the third set to spark a run that saw him win 10 of the final 13 games in a 7-6 (3), 1-6, 7-5, 6-2 victory over 247th-ranked qualifier Maximo Gonzalez.
Overcoming a mid-match malaise by re-committing to the cause at crunch time, Sock reached the U.S. Open third round for the second straight year. But it wasn’t easy and it wasn’t pretty.
The 21-year-old Nebraskan gave back a break with successive double faults for 3-3 in the opening set and failed to convert three break points in the 10th game, but amped up his aggression to win seven of the last eight points in the tiebreaker to go up a set. Sock had the momentum and crowd behind him, but betrayed his cause going AWOL in an abysmal second set. Gonzalez out-fought and out-hustled Sock, who seemed to be struggling with nerves or fatigue. He looked a step slow and times and opted against chasing shots on some points, as the 5’9” Argentine, who gave up about 35 pounds in weight to his sturdy opponent, bullied Sock in breezing through the set in 22 minutes.
The turning point came with Sock serving down 3-4 in the third set. Gonzalez, who toppled Wimbledon semifinalist Jerzy Janowicz in round one, earned three break points in that game, but Sock responded with his boldest tennis. He saved the first break point with a stinging wide serve and a forehand down the line, dodged the second when Gonzalez sailed a forehand long, and denied the third digging out a demanding volley, eventually slamming an ace to hold for 4-4.
In his first sign of nerves, Gonzalez gagged when he netted a forehand to drop serve at 5-6, then belted a ball out of the stands in frustration. A revived Sock showed his athleticism, soaring high for a sky slam to earn set point, and closed out the set in 52 minutes.
Sock, who won the 2011 U.S. Open mixed doubles title with Melanie Oudin and is playing mixed with Sloane Stephens this year, won 22 of 28 trips to the net. Because he runs around his backhand to smack his favored forehand so often, Sock can be vulnerable to opponents who can hit the backhand down the line, but his ability to take command with the stroke and close at net carried him in a day when his serve wasn't sharp (seven aces and nine double faults).
Sock’s strong surge through the finish line put a positive shine on patchy performance. While he can draw confidence from the fact he turned it up in critical moments, he essentially tapped out of the second set and was aided by the fourth-set disintegration of an opponent playing his first hard-court tournament of the year. He must commit to every point and sustain his aggression in his third-round match against 2012 quarterfinalist Janko Tipsarevic.