Sock Breaks Through In The Desert; Next: Federer
Jack Sock recorded the biggest win of his career on Friday as he defeated Kei Nishikori 6-3, 2-6, 6-2 to reach his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 semi-final at the BNP Paribas Open.
“To get my first semi at one of my favorite tournaments of the year, it feels very special to play in front of the home crowd,” said Sock. “It's so great here. They really get behind you and support not only me, but all of the Americans as well. Just to advance and keep going, play another match, feels good.”
It was the first Top 5 win for the American, who advances to a semi-final clash with Roger Federer. The 24-year-old Sock, who has made a career-best start to the year, will look to keep his momentum going by beating Federer for the first time in three attempts during their FedEx ATP Head2Head series.
“When I played him here last and I played him in Basel a couple years ago, I don't think I went on the court giving myself a ton of chances of winning. I think that's changed, for sure,” said Sock. “Obviously he's playing incredible tennis not only this year, but this week. But on the flip side of that, I am playing confident tennis as well myself. If I go out there and play the right tennis and the right strategy, I think I can give myself a shot.”
It has been a rollercoaster ride through the Indian Wells draw for Sock, who saved four match points to upset Grigor Dimitrov in the third round before being two points from defeat in his fourth-round win over Malek Jaziri.
Sock was 0-7 against Top 5 opponents before his victory over the No. 5-ranked Nishikori. The Nebraska native was appearing in his third successive singles quarter-final at an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament, having lost prior to the quarter-final stage in his first 23 appearances at this level.
Sock was under pressure early in his third FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting with Nishikori, but after holding serve from 15/40 in the first game, the Kansas resident then broke Nishikori to 15 and went on to seal the opening set. Breaks for Nishikori in the fourth and eighth games of the second set saw him level the contest, but Sock immediately regained control in the third set, breaking in the first game.
The 17th-seeded American earned a second break as he converted his fifth break point in an almost 10-minute fifth game and it proved decisive, as Sock went on to serve out victory in one hour and 48 minutes.
Nishikori expressed disappointment with his tennis after the match, but was full of praise for Sock’s performance.
“I think he served really well. I was having really tough time with my return, missing a lot, and giving him a lot of short balls. And he was attacking really well in the first and third sets,” said Nishikori. “I didn’t play my best tennis, but I think he played good tennis also.”
Sock closed his 2016 campaign by playing 33 matches (singles and doubles) in 33 days from 3 October to 4 November, and it stood him in good stead going into an intense off-season. He then opened 2017 in hot form, winning titles in Auckland (d. Sousa) and Delray Beach (w/o vs. Raonic).
Sock has enjoyed success in the desert before, on the doubles court. He and Vasek Pospisil won the title in 2015 before finishing runners-up last year.