Opportunity Knocking: Dimitrov & Sock Battle In SF
For the first time in Nitto ATP Finals history, three debutants are into the semi-finals at the season finale. And with sixth-seeded Grigor Dimitrov, who won Group Pete Sampras, playing eighth-seeded Jack Sock, the second qualifier from Group Boris Becker, the London crowd is guaranteed at least one debutant in the final for the first time since 2007 (David Ferrer).
It goes without saying that this final four-clash is a tremendous opportunity for both Dimitrov and Sock. Not only will the winner become the lowest seed to advance to the championship match since No. 6-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 2011, but they will give themselves an opportunity to win the biggest title of their careers. That adds even more pressure to a semi-final already saturated in it.
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“To come here [to London], sneak in the last spot. I'm going to have fun, play big, play free,” Sock said. “That's definitely not going to change. No one expected me to be here in the first place. There's no reason to start putting pressure on myself.”
Sock arguably was the most unlikely season finale qualifier in tournament history. Before Paris, he had lost eight of 12 matches, including four first-round exits. But after being down 1-5 in the third set of his opener at the Rolex Paris Masters, Sock went on to claim his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title and soar from No. 24 in the Emirates ATP Race To London into the season finale’s final spot in just one week.
Then in London, as arguably the underdog in each of his matches, Sock toughed out fifth-seeded Marin Cilic in three sets before doing the same against third-seeded Alexander Zverev in a winner-moves-on battle.
Could he possibly keep this run up and go all the way at his first Nitto ATP Finals?
“I mean, why not?” said Sock before looking ahead to his match against Dimitrov. “He's playing deep into tournaments almost every week, really establishing himself in the Top 10, maybe in Top 5 now, I'm not sure. But once again, I'm playing with a lot of confidence as well coming off Paris, playing here, winning some of my matches, getting into the semis. You never know what can happen.”
And while Dimitrov went undefeated in round-robin play in dominant fashion, dropping just four total games in his final two matches, Sock has won the past three matches between them and leads their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry 3-1. The American has won two of their three hard-court battles, while the Bulgarian triumphed three years ago in Stockholm in their only indoor match.
“It’s a completely different match, a completely different stage,” Dimitrov said. “Jack has been playing unbelievable the last two months I would say. He’s been fighting a lot even though a couple of times he was a break down throughout some matches, he just kept on playing, kept on fighting. I also feel like his confidence is quite high up right now, going for his shots. He’s very crafty around the net, so for sure it’s going to be a great match.”
While neither player will want to look too far ahead, the winner will play second-seeded Roger Federer — who is in pursuit of his seventh trophy at the year-end event — or David Goffin, another debutant. Sock can climb as high as No. 5 in the Emirates ATP Rankings with the title, while Dimitrov will finish the year in third by beating the American. But first, they’ll have to get through each other. And given they are two of the hottest players on the ATP World Tour, that won’t be easy for either one of them.
“I don't even want to talk,” said Sock of a possible final. "I'm focusing on Saturday, whatever time I play. I'm going to go one point at a time starting in the semis.”
And while Dimitrov is plenty happy with his form, he feels the same way.
“The past two matches, I can’t hide it, I played really well. The focus was right there,” Dimitrov said. “I like my chances. I’m going to focus on my side of the net and it’s going to be a great match.”