As the ATP heads into its home stretch at its latest Masters event in Shanghai, a recent Masters champion is far away from China—but not from tournament competition.
Ranked 210th in the world after a prolonged slump and injury, Jack Sock’s latest stop on his comeback trail is the Northbay Healthcare Men's Pro Championship, an ATP Challenger Tour event in Fairfield, CA. Thumb surgery sidelined Sock for the bulk of this year after extended struggles sent his singles ranking into the triple digits. In Fairfield, though, Sock said that his body is willing for the weeks ahead.
“It feels good. The thumb still has stiffness in it,” Sock said. “They said it could last up to a year, 18 months, but I’m able to grip the racquet and play, obviously, so that’s a big positive for me. It’s just nice to be back out playing again.”
Making his return to the court during the summer hard-court swing, the American dropped his first four matches. Despite that, he was selected as a captain’s pick for this year’s edition of the Laver Cup, the competition that pits “Team Europe” against “Team World” in a series of increasingly valuable singles and doubles matches.
A participant in the event since its inception, Sock was essentially Team World's most valuable player, winning the squad's first singles match on the opening day with a straight-sets dismissal of world No. 12 Fabio Fognini. It was Sock's first singles win of the year.
He also added two more doubles wins to his tally, although he suffered his first loss in that discipline.
“Geneva was the highlight of my year so far and that one’s going to be tough to beat for a while,” Sock said. “Our team was so close again: That one stung for a while.
“I think all the guys were still down and out about it, even a week later. Hopefully in the next coming years we can pull through and take that.”
There were some stumbles out of the gate when Sock returned to the court—including an opening-round loss in Fairfield, to Jack Draper. But Sock is eager to build upon Laver Cup as he attempts to start climbing back up the rankings along the Challenger route.
“Obviously, the atmosphere is probably a little different from Geneva to here in Fairfield and some of the other Challengers I’ll play this year,” he said. “But you gotta kind of go back: I’ve gotta obviously get some points and get the singles ranking back started.
“I’m definitely playing with more confidence after [Laver Cup], and more energy and more positivity.”
The former world No. 8 is well aware of his capabilities. Less than two years ago, he won his first Masters 1000 singles title in Paris, and advanced to the last four of the ATP Finals in his debut at the year-end championships.
“I’ve showed it, for my whole career,” he said. “So obviously that’s in me and it’s not so far away, I would say.
“People still like to hate on me this year and I’ve played, you know, what maybe five events and not many matches,” he added. “I still have a long way to go to get back to where I want to be and I know I can be.”