Sock shows he can tough it out to see off a ner­vous Cilic

The Guardian - Sport - - Rugby Union - Kevin Mitchell O2 Arena

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.

Clive Brun­skill/Getty Images

Amer­ica’s Jack Sock serves on his way to a three-set vic­tory over Marin Cilic in North Green­wich

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