On a reasonably cold day in the desert, America’s rising star, Jack Sock was a point away from his first win at a Masters Series event at the BNP Paribas Open.
Battling back in the second-set tiebreak, Sock finally caught the lead at 8-7 over veteran Ivo Karlovic, but a string of unforced errors led the Croat to level the match, taking the momentum away from an unraveling Sock, who immediately whacked a tennis ball out of the stadium.
Clearly, there are still some lessons to be learned by the native Nebraskan, as he lost 3-6, 7-6, 6-2.
“He happened to win,” Sock said to tennis.com. “When you have match point, you seem comfortable out there. Pretty routine backhand up the line and I missed it by a couple of inches.”
Sock, along with John Isner, were America’s best bet to make a run at the year’s first Masters Series event but were both gone by the weekend. Isner was hoping to defend his finalist showing from last year but fell short to former champ Lleyton Hewitt.
Sock, on the other hand, had reached his first ATP tournament quarterfinals at Memphis last month, also getting his first top-20 win over big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic. The Californian hard courts were the perfect place to continue his spring success.
Throughout the majority of the match, Sock was clearly the better player, serving big (125-135 mph), that set up easy forehand put-away shots. But experience was what won the match for Karlovic. The 34-year-old Croat knew how to hang on with his powerful serving and net play that denied Sock a break of service or match point.
After being broken at the start of the third set, the once-confident ball striking from Sock evaporated, along with the American crowd as Sock made a quiet exit.
Sock has the tennis talent to carry the American flag in the post-Roddick generation but mentally is a notch below the pros. More match play can fix this, but Sock needs to treat each set like a new start. He let his one match point bother him so much that his level significantly slipped and handed Karlovic the match.
The mental game and a loose backhand passing shot is what separated Sock from being “Jack the Giant Slayer” from Jack the “almost” Giant Slayer that Friday in Indian Wells.
Let's hope he finds happier days and matches in Miami next week.