In 2017, Jack Sock won 38 matches and three singles titles. He finished the year ranked No. 8 in the world. Two years later, after battling a combination of injuries and a loss of mojo so severe it would make Austin Powers jealous, Sock fell off the ATP rankings list when he failed to win a tour-level match in 2019.
In all sports, but especially tennis, confidence isn’t everything—it’s the only thing. Sean Marion, who arguably owned the ugliest jump shot in NBA history, wouldn’t have made 791 three-pointers if he didn’t believe they would go in. For over a year, Sock was the butt of many jokes in the tennis community. He didn't have a shred of confidence to speak of. But he was paying attention while plotting his revenge.
“I’m not opposed to silencing some haters after the last couple years I’ve gone through,” Sock said. “I’ve read and seen enough of it, heard enough of it. I'm kind of ready to reestablish myself out there.”
If you know anything about Sock, you should know it won’t take much for him to start believing in a big way. In fact, the comeback has already begun.
Before the hiatus, Sock honed his game on the Challenger Tour. He took some bad losses, but showed flashes of his former self with a run to the Indian Wells Challenger final, defeating rising stars Brandon Nakashima and Ugo Humbert en route. Over the offseason, Sock and coach Alex Bogomolov Jr. spent most of their time on the track and in the gym. Judging by his five-set win over Pablo Cuevas in New York, and his four consecutive match wins in Paris, fitness is no longer Sock’s glaring weakness.
On Wednesday, the 28-year-old will find out exactly where he belongs on the ATP Tour hierarchy, as he faces two-time Roland Garros finalist and recent US Open champion Dominic Thiem. While Thiem is the overwhelming favorite (-2400, meaning a $100 bet would win you $2.40), this match is a perfect litmus test for a resurgent Sock.
“I heard he's pretty good on clay. I heard he played all right a few weeks ago in New York. I think he's being called the new king of clay after Nadal.”
In what could have been a trap match against former world No. 3 Marin Cilic, Thiem seamlessly transitioned from hard to clay, dispatching the Croatian, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. Much has been made of the adverse conditions in Paris, but Thiem doesn’t mind.
“I know how to play in those conditions obviously because in Austria, we have many days like that,” Thiem said. “There were many tournaments with similar conditions. Cold, heavy balls.”
As long as he’s breathing, Sock will own one of the world’s best forehands. He hits it unlike any other player, therefore he can hit shots no other player can, like this full-swinging half-volley from the baseline (off his back foot).
With his extreme western grip, elastic wrist, and loose tension (he strings his racket in the 35 lbs range), it is a marvel to behold.
"That thing is one of the biggest forehands in the game," said Mike Bryan. "It’s tough, he hits it like an overhead.”
Thiem and Sock have played four times before, with the Austrian owning a 3-1 head to head advantage. Thiem knows how dangerous Sock is when planted in the ad court, ripping forehands both inside out and inside in.
In order to neutralize an opponents strength, you must attack it. Sock has spent his entire life defending his backhand corner, so he’s actually quite good at it. Look for Thiem to open up the court and then attack Sock’s forehand, just like he did at the 2018 Paris Masters.
Regardless of who wins on Wednesday, it’s nice to see the American playing well again. After that match, we should have a better idea of what to expect for Sock in 2021.
The Pick: Dominic Thiem