08:07 PM GMT November 16, 2017
Everything was pointing against Jack Sock on Thursday night at the Nitto ATP Finals.
After winning the first set against World No. 3 Alexander Zverev, the American had disappeared in the second, losing it in only 28 minutes. To start the decider, Sock had fallen behind a break and received a point penalty for smashing a ball off the court.
Zverev stepped up to the service line leading 1-0, 15/0, and with all the momentum at his back. The match looked as if it'd be over in minutes.
But Sock, just as he had done earlier this month at the Rolex Paris Masters, came back from near-certain defeat and will now play in the semi-finals of the Nitto ATP Finals for the first time. The eighth-seed debutant upset Zverev 6-4, 1-6, 6-4 at The O2 in London to become the first American to reach the final weekend of the season since Andy Roddick in 2007 (l. to Ferrer).
“I'm playing with house money. I'm going out there and letting loose, having fun, trying to put on a show a little bit, just enjoy my time,” Sock said.
The 25-year-old finishes second in Group Boris Becker, behind group winner Roger Federer, and will face Grigor Dimitrov, who won Group Pete Sampras, on Saturday. Sock leads their FedEx ATP Head2Head series 3-1, including a three-set fight earlier this year at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells in which Sock saved four match points, including three consecutively from 0/40, to advance.
“He got me early on when we played. I've been able to get some wins against him. Obviously I think he's a little bit different player since the last time I played him. I think he's really found his game, what exactly he wants to do out there. It's showing throughout the year. He's playing deep into tournaments almost every week, really establishing himself in the Top 10,” Sock said.
“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.”
Sock started against Zverev with the same aggressive mindset that helped him beat Dimitrov in Indian Wells. The American was blasting forehands and landing 130 mph-plus first serves. He was also avoiding backhand-to-backhand battles with Zverev, who possesses one of the game's best backhands.
Sock saved all six break points and broke Zverev in the seventh game before serving out the set. Zverev, however, blitzed through the second, and the 20-year-old German looked as if he'd become the youngest semi-finalist at the Nitto ATP Finals since 20-year-old Rafael Nadal in 2006.
But at 1-0, 15/0, Zverev tossed in a loose service game, double faulting twice and dumping a forehand into the net on break point. Suddenly, Sock had the momentum again, and he overcame a late break to celebrate the biggest win of his career. At 4-5, 30/30, Zverev double faulted – his eighth of the match – and on match point, Zverev, who had won five ATP World Tour titles this year, sprayed a forehand wide.
“I choked. It's quite easy. Won the second set 6-1. I was 1-0 with a break. He got a point penalty. I was down 1-4 within 10 minutes where I didn't put many balls in the court,” Zverev said. “So, yeah, I just choked.”
It's the third Top 5 win of Sock's career. His first came earlier this year during the semi-finals of the BNP Paribas Open, where he dismissed No. 5 Kei Nishikori in straight sets to reach his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 semi-final. Sock also beat No. 5 Marin Cilic earlier this week.
And to think, on 1 November, Sock was No. 22 in the Emirates ATP Rankings and a game away from heading home for the off-season. The American was down 1-5 in the third set against Brit Kyle Edmund. But Sock climbed back to win 4-6, 7-6(4), 7-6(5) and extend his season. He qualified for the Nitto ATP Finals by winning the Rolex Paris Masters (d. Krajinovic), his first Masters 1000 title.
“If I put pressure on myself, I probably wouldn't be here in the first place. I think getting through that first match in Paris, playing Edmund, honestly I should have lost, but ended up winning the tournament. I don't think I would have gotten through that week if I put pressure on myself,” Sock said.
“Then to come here, sneak in the last spot. I'm going to have fun, play big, play free, like you just said. That's definitely not going to change. No one expected me to be here in the first place.
On Saturday, he'll try to prolong his season one more day, until Sunday, the final day of the 2017 ATP World Tour season.