Jack Sock Wins First Masters Title, Qualifies for ATP Finals

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Americans have not had the greatest success in men’s tennis in recent years, to say the least. The last American man to win a Grand Slam was Andy Roddick, way back in 2003. The last American man to win a Masters was… also Andy Roddick, at the Miami Masters in 2010. Until now, that is. Coming through a depleted field, Jack Sock finished the best week of his life (in singles, at least) and won the title at the Paris Masters.

The often-called “Big 4” have dominated tennis so much for the past 14 years. Sock actually is the first non-European man to win a Masters or Slam since that Roddick Miami title over seven years ago. What brought Sock to his title here? There was a confluence of numerous factors, but Sock rose to the occasion to not miss this opportunity.

The 25-year-old American drew a difficult quarter, as Roger Federer looked to be his quarterfinal opponent. However, Federer was banged up after his run to the Basel title last week, so the Swiss superstar withdrew from Paris. This moved Lucas Pouille–fresh off his own title last week, in Vienna–to Federer’s spot in the draw. Sock struggled with Kyle Edmund in the second round (he trailed 1-5 in the third set before coming back), needing tiebreaks in the second and third sets to win, but the American got past Pouille in the third round with relative ease. Pouille, now World #18, would be the highest-ranked player that the American would have to face.

Sock had the fortune of facing players coming off big upsets in his final three matches. Fernando Verdasco upset World #6 Dominic Thiem in the third round, but he fell to the American in three sets in the quarterfinals. Julien Benneteau upset World #5 Marin Cilic in the quarterfinals, but the Frenchman didn’t have enough left in the tank to compete with the American in the semifinals.

In the final, Sock faced Serbian qualifier Filip Krajinovic–who has an incredible story of his own. Krajinovic began this year outside the Top 200, and he made his way into the Top 100 by winning five clay-court Challengers since this spring. Krajinovic had a fortunate path through qualifiers, upsetting Guido Pella in his first match. Then, he upset American Sam Querrey (who is in the middle of a terrible run of form) in the second round, and out-dueled Nicolas Mahut for a spot in the quarterfinals. Rafael Nadal’s withdrawal moved Krajinovic into the semifinals, where he pulled off an incredible upset of John Isner. Krajinovic had one tour-level win before this tournament; then he found himself one win away from a Masters 1000 title.

The match

Neither player seemed overawed by the occasion–perhaps the fact that the opponent wasn’t a previous Slam or Masters champion (or even finalist) helped each man. The pair traded breaks early in the first set, and the American couldn’t handle the pressure late. Several big forehand errors gave away the break and the set, 75 to the Frenchman. Sock came out firing in the second set, earning an early break and following it with a second a few games later. The American gave one back, but still took the set 64.

The third set started out a bit nervy. Krajinovic fell from 40-0 to deuce in his first service game, but managed to hold. Sock earned the break in Krajinovic’s next service game, though, on two incredible passing shots. Sock showed some nerves in the following game, but earned a hold after two huge serves from 30-30. Krajinovic saved two break points in the following game, but couldn’t save a third as Sock his another incredible passing shot to take firm control of the match. An easy hold and a break later, Jack Sock was a Masters champion–57 64 61.

What this means

Sock moves into the Top 10 and becomes the highest-ranked American on tour. He also becomes the first American man to qualify for the ATP Finals since Mardy Fish back in 2011. Yes, the ATP field was very depleted in the second half of this year. No Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori, or Tomas Berdych (among other withdrawals) left openings in draws and the rankings. But someone had to come through and take it. Sock brought his best tennis to this tournament, and he showed why he is a top player.

The 25-year-old American will now have a chance to show himself against the best in the world at the ATP Finals. With neither Federer nor Nadal at 100%, and with the relative youth of the other qualifiers, Sock will have a real opportunity to earn some huge wins. Ranking points and prize money come quickly in London, so every win is huge.

Coming into next season, Sock should have a great seed at the Australian Open and unbridled confidence. There is no doubt that this was an opportunity for Sock that doesn’t present itself most years. It’s rare to win a Masters without facing a single opponent in the Top 10 (or Top 15). But Sock has the talent to play with anyone on any day. If he can use this result as a springboard into 2018, there is no limit to what he can do–even against a healthy field of top players.

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