Jack Sock kept his dreams of a fairytale finish to his season alive on Tuesday, beating Wimbledon runner-up Marin Cilic 5-7, 6-2, 7-6 (4) at the ATP Finals.
Cilic, who won the 2014 US Open, broke the American twice to win the first set but found himself adrift in the second as Sock levelled the round-robin match with two breaks of his own.
In a see-saw deciding set, the Croatian fifth seed started quickly and raced to a 3-0 lead before Sock, the eighth seed, steadied himself, cancelling out the break.
The match then settled back on serve and went to a tiebreak. Although Cilic edged ahead 4-2, Sock held his nerve, winning five points in a row to seal the victory.
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) November 14, 2017
“That was a tough one for sure,” said the American. “It’s been an interesting morning so far. The fire alarm went off at 4:00 am and we had to exit the building. But I love playing here in London. It’s an amazing atmosphere, you make me feel like home. I’m just excited to win and keep myself alive.”
He later elaborated in his press conference saying: “At first I didn’t know if it was a test or whatever. Then I realised it was 4 a.m., so I hoped it wasn’t just a test from the hotel. I went outside, saw Rafa (Nadal), saw Dominic (Thiem). Everyone was all bundled up, freezing cold, just wanting to get back inside. Yeah, it was pretty miserable, to be honest.”
Sock, the American number one, came from nowhere to reach the end-of-season event, reaching London by winning the Paris Masters — and breaking a run of European success at Masters events stretching back to 2010.
He is the first American since Mardy Fish in 2011 to qualify for the ATP Finals in singles and on Tuesday, he became the first American to win a singles match at the O2 Arena.
“I’ve been talking to Mardy since I’ve been here. He told me to enjoy it. I know he was the last guy here. I didn’t even know if he’d won a match or not,” said Sock. “That’s news to me. Yeah, going out there and enjoying the moment.”
Sock said he wasn’t necessarily surprising himself with his form this season, and that he turns up for tournaments looking to go deep, not just make an appearance.
“I’m 25 years old. I’m not the new kid on the block anymore. It’s kind of my time, the next however many years. Yeah, I’m just trying to do what I can,” he added.
This week, Sock lost his first match in the Boris Becker group to Roger Federer while Alexander Zverev beat Cilic, leaving both fighting for their lives on Tuesday.
The top two players from each of the two groups of four will progress to the semi-finals.
Cilic admitted it was “frustrating” to lose both of his opening two matches in the same manner, having had it in his hands before letting it slip away.
Is the Croatian feeling jaded at this point so late in the season?
“Well, yes and no. It has been this long stretch. These last couple months, I’ve played a lot of matches as well,” said Cilic.
“Still it didn’t bother me much. I was quite motivated in both matches. I felt that I played well. I know that I wasn’t playing the best, especially in those critical moments I was not coming up with some great shots.
“It’s also end of the season. I think both Alex, and Jack today, they were both as well a little bit up and down with their game, producing some great shots, great serves, some great shots off the run. Overall, I would say it’s quite open in both matches. That was just a little bit unfortunate that I wasn’t able to close. I was putting myself in a really nice position.”
Later, the crowd will be treated to the latest episode in the cross-generational rivalry between Federer and Zverev, with the tournament desperately needing a compelling story after the withdrawal of world number one Rafael Nadal.
The Spaniard quit the tournament on Monday after losing his opening match in the Pete Sampras group to David Goffin.
Federer, 36, and Zverev, 20, have faced each other four times and each has won twice. This year, the Swiss world number two beat the German in Halle but Zverev returned the favour at the Rogers Cup in Montreal.
The ATP Finals feature the top eight fit male singles players and doubles teams who have accrued the most points throughout the 2017 season.
Rafael Nadal insists he has no regrets over any decisions he made in 2017 regarding his calendar, despite the latest knee injury that forced him to withdraw from the ATP Finals on Monday.
The 31-year-old Spaniard has had a tremendous season, where he returned to No. 1 in the world for the first time in three years and won two Grand Slam titles, including a record 10th Roland Garros.
Nadal’s knee had been bothering for the last few weeks, and he withdrew ahead of his Paris Masters quarter-finals earlier this month, after he secured the year-end No. 1 ranking with his opening round victory in the French capital.
Members of his team were against Nadal competing at the ATP Finals in London – an event he missed multiple times in the past due to injury – but the top seed insisted he would at least try to compete at the season finale.
He was clearly in pain throughout his opener against Goffin and many questioned whether he put himself through that out of obligation to the tournament.
“Nobody put a gun to my head to come and play. I do what I personally feel inside and not because someone forced me to do this,” Nadal said after the match.
“A week ago, it was on the table to put an end to the season, and part of my team wanted that. It was my decision to be here.
“Sometimes things go well and sometimes they don’t. You have to accept both with a good attitude.”
Nadal contested 18 tournaments this season (including the ATP Finals), and ends the year with 67 wins from 78 matches. He also played the Laver Cup in September and the Abu Dhabi exhibition end of December 2016, but neither are official tour events.
Roger Federer in comparison has played just 54 matches (as of the morning of Tuesday November 14) across 12 tournaments (plus the non-official Hopman Cup in Perth in January, and Laver Cup).
The Swiss world No. 2 has scaled back on his events schedule this year to make sure he remains healthy as he continues to dominate the sport at 36 years of age.
Nadal refuses to make any comparisons with other players and is sticking by his own philosophy when choosing the events he wishes to compete in.
But as he ends another year with an injury, is he tempted to rethink his calendar to make sure he’s fit at the closing of the season?
“At the end of the day, everyone does their own calendar and all calendars can be valid or not depending on how you’re playing tennis,” said Nadal.
“The calendar is shaped by your tennis and your results. I don’t regret a single decision I have made all year.
“I had adequate rest. I played Brisbane, the only 250 I’ve played, I played Acapulco, I played Barcelona and I played Beijing. Those are the four tournaments I played outside the mandatory ones and I was competitive in all of them. I’m 31 not 36,” he added, referring to Federer.
“My career is mine, and his is his. My body, my mind and my tennis decides my calendar.”
Nadal will now take a well-deserved rest and is scheduled to return to action at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi from December 28-30, 2017.
It is a familiar scenario Rafael Nadal knows all too well. He knows the pain, the disappointment, the surrender to circumstances that are out of his control, the right words to describe it all and the positive attitude to face it head on.
So when the world No. 1 addressed a packed interview room at the O2 Arena in London to announce he was withdrawing from the ATP Finals, it came as no surprise that Nadal was eloquent in his delivery and knew exactly what to say.
After battling through three gruelling sets, while suffering some serious pain in his injured right knee, before losing to David Goffin 7-6(5), 6-7(4), 6-4 in their ATP Finals opener on Monday, Nadal conceded that enough was enough.
“My season is finished. Yeah, I had the commitment with the event, with the city, with myself. I tried hard. I did the thing that I had to do to try to be ready to play,” said Nadal, who was carrying a knee injury that forced him to pull out of the Paris Masters less than two weeks ago.
“It’s about the pain. I cannot hold with enough power to keep playing. I tried, but seriously it was a miracle to be very close in the score during the match. It really don’t make sense.”
Injury has kept Nadal out of many tournaments he wished he’d competed in. It forced him about of Olympic Games, Grand Slams, as well as multiple ATP Finals.
By now, he is an expert in accepting the reality of his body’s shortcomings.
“That’s how it works, my career, at the same time. I can’t complain,” he simply states.
“I feel very lucky about all the things that are happening to me. But on the other hand, is true that I am probably the top player that had more injuries and more troubles in the careers of everyone, no?
“Is always about this challenge. But I am used to this and I know what I have to do. I think I am ready to do it.”
Nadal knew during the match that he would never finish this tournament in London. Yet somehow he saved four match points in the second set, forced a decider, and even got one of two breaks back in that third set before he lost.
“Nadal is a unique mammal,” tweeted British doubles star Jamie Murray during the match.
We were all wondering: Why was he putting himself through this while being so evidently injured.
Ultimately he knew this was going to be his last match and he wanted to go down the only way he knows how: fighting.
He winced in pain, but roared with every break point he saved. He fell behind and stormed back. He did everything his adoring fans love to witness. Except win the match.
“Even winning, even losing, I was going to pull out because I was not enjoying on court at all. Was not fun to play like this. I really believed that I don’t deserve after this great season to spend two more days on court with this terrible feelings, no? That’s all,” he bluntly explains.
The bizarre thing is that Nadal was not too far from winning that match against Goffin. But he insists that would have never swayed his decision.
“I’m not here to have some luck to win one match. I’m here to try and win the tournament,” he told Spanish press.
“I am, of course, disappointed. But I am not going to cry. I had a great season.”
That is of course true. With two Grand Slam titles and four more trophies captured in 2017, Nadal returned to the top of the rankings and ends the year as world No. 1.
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) November 13, 2017
The man whose troubled knees are as famous as he is has proven once again that no injury nor setback can keep him down for too long.
The Mallorcan says he knows exactly what he needs to do to overcome this current knee problem, and he is willing to do whatever it takes to be ready for the Australian Open next January, but “with no rush”.
There was zero hint of resentment or bitterness in Nadal’s tone of voice.
“One cannot always be frustrated. I’m a positive person in general. I try not to have big celebrations when things go well, nor big dramas when things don’t go well,” he says.
“It’s not a drama. It was a dream season, and I would have paid (money) for a season like this and I’ll stick with that.
“It’s true that I don’t like finishing like this. I believe that, on the inside, I deserved a better ending but sport does not owe anything to anyone.”
In a world riddled with entitlement, Nadal is sticking to his tried and tested method: work, suffer, accept, rinse, and repeat. A new cycle begins tomorrow.