It was a special moment for American tennis player Jack Sock. Sock had won the Paris Masters 1000 event, defeating Filip Krajinovic in straight sets.
This was by far the biggest title of Sock’s career, as he had only won a few ATP 250 events coming into Paris. Sock moved into the top 10 in the world and played in at ATP Tour Finals, where he made the semifinals.
The future was looking bright for Sock. That tournament highlighted many positive aspects of his game. He served huge, hit his extreme topspin on the forehand beautifully, and had no issue moving forward in the court to bring the fight to his opponents. Sock looked ready to become a mainstay at the top of the ATP Tour. Yes, the pressure of defending a lot of points would be in the back of Sock’s mind, but his singles game was at level it had never been at before. He had won a doubles major previously, with Vasek Pospisil at Wimbledon in 2014, but he had never soared so high on the singles court.
Then, the 2018 season came around. I want to put out the disclaimer that Sock’s doubles career could was fantastic in 2018. He won two majors and the ATP Tour Finals in doubles. However, Sock’s singles career took a downfall and 2018 was an utter disaster. Sock went 9-22 over the course of the year, with a 1-4 record at majors, and an 8-match losing streak in the middle of the season.
Sock’s ranking went down from World No. 8 at the start of the season to World No. 106 at year’s end. For someone who had won a Masters 1000 event and been a part of ATP Tour Finals, the most exclusive event on tour, it was quite a hard fall. Sock struggled with match fitness throughout the season, going 1-13 in matches that went the distance. While in the past match fitness had been a roadblock for Sock, his pure talent had got him through the tough moments. But, when confidence is low and his shots aren’t working the way they did previously, the ability to grind out matches becomes more important. And Sock, quite frankly, was out of (professional athlete) shape.
Coming into the 2019 season, Sock needed a massive turnaround. He had the offseason to get in shape, regain his focus, and start out the 2019 season strong. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
In 2019 (not including exhibitions), Sock has went 0-4. After losing in the first round of the Australian Open to Alex Bolt, Sock injured his finger and was out until Atlanta (http://www.tennis.com/pro-game/2019/07/jack-sock-ready-hit-restart-2019-week-atlanta/83696/). Unfortunately, his return from injury has not resulted in wins, as he’s only won one set in the three matches in his comeback. This included a loss to Mikhail Kukushkin In Cincinnati Masters 1000 qualifying action yesterday. Sock’s current ranking is World No. 176 and he is not ranked in the ATP Race.
Given that a lot of his points are tied up in his only good result last season, a quarterfinal appearance at the Masters 1000 event in Paris, the breakthrough event from 2017, an event he probably won’t even get into qualifying for, and things are looking bleak for Sock.
It’s important to note that, since returning from injury, Sock has gotten a wild card into all three events that he’s played. With the North American hard court swing set to end in just a couple weeks at the US Open, those wild cards are going to dry up soon. His wild card at the US Open could be the last non-Challenger wild card that Sock gets all season, and given he won a round at the US Open last year, it’s vital he can at least defend those points.
US Open men's wild cards: Bjorn Fratangelo, Marcos Giron, Denis Kudla, Jack Sock, Ernesto Escobedo, Zachary Svajda of the USA and Antoine Hoang of France and Australia's recip WC to be announced, the USTA just announced.
— Randy Walker (@TennisPublisher) August 13, 2019
In terms of a protected ranking, Sock seems to be eligible for one more per ATP rules. His last match before his injury was the 14th of January and his comeback match was the 23rd of August, so it had been over six months since he last played. Six months is the minimum to be out before one is eligible to receive a protected ranking. Now, whether or not Sock petitioned for the protected ranking is not known, but if he did, this will provide him with at least the safety net of a protected ranking just outside of the top 100 and allow him to get into lower ATP tournaments/qualifying events and ATP Challenger events for 9 PR tournament for, at the most, 9 months.
Protected ranking or not, Sock is staring down a very sticky situation. It doesn’t matter how many events he can get in, if he doesn’t win enough matches, it is conceivable that he would have to play Futures events in 2020 when all of his points fall off. For a former Top 10 player and Masters 1000 event winner, this would be in stark contrast to the big stadiums and crowds that he’s used to.
But, perhaps dropping down to smaller events with less points and prize money would be what Sock needs to get in shape and get his career back on track. Playing at tiny Challenger and Futures events could show Sock how privileged he has been in the past to be playing the huge tournaments that he did and revitalize his career. His forehand still is one of the best in tennis, after all.
Jack Sock is a very talented player. But, if he doesn’t start winning soon, he will be deep in the abyss of the ATP rankings system.