Sock shows he can tough it out to see off a nervous Cilic
Jack Sock, who revels in the nickname “Showtime”, walks with unmistakeable American swagger while Marin Cilic houses his obvious gifts in a stooped body that moves with all the conviction of a grave digger. On the third day of the World Tour Finals it was hustle and bustle from the new world that prevailed over Croatian introspection.
“I’m playing with the house’s money,” Sock said on arrival this week, having had to win in Paris 10 days ago to qualify. “That was a tough one, for sure,” he said yesterday, after taking two hours and 37 minutes to win 5-7, 6-2, 7-6 (4), Cilic’s seventh defeat in eight matches here over the years.
Sock added: “I love playing in London. You make me feel at home. My coach nicknamed me Showtime when I was young because I always love to play in front of people. There’s always a lot going on. I don’t even know what I’m doing sometimes.”
A case in point was the long 11th game of the first set. Both were hitting with purpose and skill, the Croat in his characteristically nervous way, as if not quite trusting his obvious talent, the American full of it, crafting winners with unalloyed belief. Cilic needed to hold to keep his rampant young tormentor at bay and it looked bad for him when Sock first deftly stretched him on the forehand side with a measured volley that forced an error, then a perfectly timed lob that left him stranded.
However, behind his big guns, Cilic continued to pepper Sock’s defences, which cracked – not for want of ambition but stamina. With his balance momentarily askew, he failed to clinch the break when ripping a forehand not over the high part of the net but into it; then, similarly not set, he pumped a tired forehand wide and the moment was gone. minutes. Sock regrouped to break early in the second. Could he sustain his level, though, against a US Open champion and Wimbledon finalist? A double-fault in the fourth game – his first of the match – and a weary forehand suggested otherwise but with his racket face open, he dinked two delightful drop shots to progress to a 3-1 lead.
He surely felt he was on top when nerves invaded Cilic’s racket, a fourth double fault and a faltering forehand costing him his serve in the fifth game. Sock took it to a third set, the drop shot and his seventh ace the killer weapons.
In deciding sets this year, Cilic has a poor 42.6% return for a player of his quality, Sock 64%. To put that in context, Roger Federer has won 84.6% of matchwinning sets in this his glorious comeback season. Yesterday afternoon, the numbers fell Sock’s way.
Stung by his collapse, Cilic broke at the first opportunity and Sock, who had briefly left the court for a comfort break at the end of the second set, seemed momentarily off the pace. When Cilic held to love for a 3-0 lead, what had been a match-winning mindset for Sock 10 minutes earlier dissolved completely. He had won a single point in the set to that point.
His mojo flooded back in the fourth game, the serve clicking and the groundstrokes finding their angled mark, as he dragged himself back into the fight and they went to the shootout. Cilic was 15-13 in tie-breaks, Sock 18-7. Again, stats ruled. Cilic crossed 4-2 up but Sock held strong, forcing his wavering foe into an unfavourable position to seal the win.
America’s Jack Sock serves on his way to a three-set victory over Marin Cilic in North Greenwich