Jack Sock found out he was the new top-ranked American man in the most unconventional of ways: Twitter. A second-round 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 win over Karen Khachanov at the Australian Open was enough for the 24-year-old Kansan to leapfrog countryman John Isner and climb to a then-career-high No. 20 in the Emirates ATP Rankings. Sock had just finished his match when he checked his social media.
“I definitely take pride in it, for sure,” said Sock, now No. 18 and into his first-ever ATP World Tour Masters 1000 semifinal at the BNP Paribas Open. “If you view the history of the top-ranked Americans we’ve had in tennis through the years, it's a pretty cool list. To be a part of it is definitely a cool feeling. It's awesome. I hear it only from you guys. I never talk about it outside of media and press. It's a cool feeling. I'm going to try to hold on to it as long as I can. There’s a nice confidence boost from that.”
Of his run in Indian Wells, in which he’s gone the distance in each of his four wins, including a 6-3, 2-6, 6-2 upset of Kei Nishikori in the quarterfinals — his first Top-5 triumph in eight attempts and easily the best win of his career — Sock said he’s “definitely getting my money's worth on court.” What does the string of three-setters say about his conditioning?
“Hopefully [it] says a lot. The doubters in the past can’t really say much anymore,” he said. “I feel good physically. I actually feel almost stronger as the tournament has gone on.”
His semifinal opponent — 18-time Slam champ Roger Federer — on the other hand, will come into the contest a tad more well rested. The Swiss’ wins have all come in straight sets, and he benefited from a walkover in the quarterfinals when Nick Kyrgios withdrew due to illness. However, Sock doesn’t think he’ll have much trouble getting up for a match against the perceived GOAT.
“In my opinion, he's the best to ever play,” Sock said. “It will definitely be a challenge. It's a testament to him and his ability and skill and taking that much time off and coming back and winning the first major of the year and playing the tennis he's been playing this year.”
He’s faced Federer twice before, including a fourth-round match here in 2015, but the American remains winless against the four-time Indian Wells titlist.
“I don't think I went on the court giving myself a ton of chances of winning,” he said of his losses in Indian Wells and in Federer’s hometown of Basel. “I think that's changed, for sure. He's playing incredible tennis not only this year but this week. On the flip side of that, I’m playing confident tennis as well. And I think if I go out there and play the right tennis and play the right strategy, I think I can give myself a shot.”
Sock arrived in the desert having won both Auckland and Delray Beach, the second and third ATP singles titles of his six-year professional career. With his win over Nishikori on Friday, in which he did all he had to do — stay aggressive, go for his forehand and come forward whenever possible — he improved to 15-2 on the year. What’s made the difference for him in 2017?
“I think it's the off-season,” said the Troy Hahn-coached Sock. “I Just made some changes, put in a lot of good work, physically, mentally, everything put together. It's showing this year. Physically, I’ve been making the right strides for some time now. I just kept adding to it in the off-season. But the mental side of it is probably the biggest difference so far this year. The last year-and-a-half, two years, the matches I’ve been winning this year, especially this tournament, I probably wouldn't have been winning.”
Sock has adopted a new post-match ritual this week in Indian Wells. Following his wins over Malek Jaziri and Nishikori, he treated fans to an impromptu celebratory dance move, turning to none other than Twitter to promote them. Has he got a few more moves in him this week?