Jack Sock, the last American male standing at the 2015 French Open, is finally ready to become the USA's leading man.
Sock has a chance to advance to the fourth round, the deepest he's ever gone in a Grand Slam. He can also replace John Isner as America's best hope to win its first Slam since Andy Roddick won the U.S. Open in 2003.
Sock, ranked No. 37, has plenty work to do before overtaking No. 16 Isner in the ATP rankings. However, the 22-year-old's youth and Roddick-like serve offer Americans a glimmer of hope. The country that produced Arthur Ashe, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras has been mired in mediocrity, stuck outside the Top Five.
American fans used to watch Grand Slams to cheer on compatriots. Now they tune in to pick their favorite among the Big Four, none of them U.S. citizens. Slam-starved, Americans long to wave the flag for a men's tennis star.
Enter Sock, a native of Lincoln, Neb., who makes his home in Tampa.
Sock has already won a Grand Slam title in doubles, partnering with Canada's Vasek Pospisil to win the 2014 Wimbledon crown. The doubles team is currently seeded second at Roland Garros.
Unlike Isner, whose towering, 6'10" figure is atypical of tennis greats, Sock, at 6'3", 185 pounds, has prototypical champion's size.
That forehand is fierce.
Courtney Nguyen, of SI.com, tweeted that former ATP player and tennis broadcaster Jimmy Arias said that only Rafael Nadal has a quicker racket head speed on forehand than Sock.
Sock used his forehand to pummel No. 10 seed Grigor Dimitrov en route to a first-round upset win over the Bulgarian. It was Sock's first victory over a player in the Top 20, in a Grand Slam. After beating Dimitrov, Sock told ATPWorldTour.com that his confidence is growing.
"I feel like if I play some of my best tennis I have a chance against anybody."
This French Open run marks a season high for Sock, who experienced the lowest of lows in January. A pelvic injury and subsequent hip surgery forced Sock to withdraw from the Australian Open. However, what seemed like a curse turned out to be a blessing for Sock.
While he was rehabbing, Sock received devastating news about his older brother, Eric Sock, who played tennis at Nebraska. After visiting the doctor for what he thought was a sore throat, Eric was diagnosed with bilateral pneumonia. He took a turn for the worse and spent eight days on life support.
Because Sock was in Kansas City recovering from his surgery, he was able to be by his brother's side.
“Had I been in Melbourne and gotten a phone call from my family that my brother was in the hospital, I don't know how and in what state of mind I would have been in to play tennis there," Sock told Alison Kim of ATPWorldTour.com.
The ordeal brought Sock closer to his family and helped him appreciate tennis. During the lead-up to Indian Wells in late March, Sock told Andrew John of the Desert Sun that his brother's courage and fight inspired him to play better.
“He was 24 hours away from dying. It took a lot of guts for him to get through that, so I’m out here playing and hoping to make them proud.”
Sock wore the message "For you, Eric" on his sneakers at Indian Wells and in Miami. Earlier this year, Sock spoke with Kim about how his brother's recovery helps him keep his career in perspective.
"When you're out there and you get frustrated missing a ball or whatever it is, you can kind of think he's been through, almost not making it to a kind of miraculous recovery. Kind of puts things in perspective. Just go out there and enjoy it, and you can play a little more free."
He won his first ATP title in April, the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championships in Houston.
It seems like just yesterday, Sock was being touted as the next Roddick, another native Nebraskan. With Eric playing at Nebraska, joining the Huskers seemed like an obvious choice for Sock. However, he was considered a teen phenom and opted to turn pro at 18.
But like with many "future phenoms," Sock's professional career got off to a rocky start. Lumped in with the likes of Ryan Harrison and Donald Young, Sock's early struggles had him heading for the latest American bust tag. Instead of carving out a name for himself, he joined the list of American men failing to live up to expectations.
Then last year, Sock found instant success in doubles. He and partner Pospisil upset Bob and Mike Bryan in the 2014 Wimbledon finals. They beat the Bryan brothers again at Indian Wells this year. With so much success at doubles—his career earnings in doubles currently top his singles winnings—Sock seemed to be putting singles on the back burner.
That was until his brother's near-death experience brought new life to his game.
At the French Open, Sock has written a new inspirational message on his sneakers "4UGPA," which mean's "for you grandpa," in honor of his grandfather, who suffers from Alzheimer's. He tweeted a picture of his sneakers prior to his first-round match:
He's only 22, and his best tennis is ahead. He finally looks ready to take the dusty mantle left by Roddick. American fans are eager to embrace him. He's the next best hope.