Monday, April 13, 2015

Where Does Jack Sock Go From Here?

Jack Sock won his first ATP title last week at the US Men's Clay Court Championship in Houston, and the hype for Sock is continuing to build.  He's only 22 years old and is up to a career high 36 in the world (while having missed the early part of the season with an injury).  Sock isn't the kind of player who is likely to be bothered by the hype, as he has plenty of self confidence and seems to enjoy the attention.  The question is simply how far can Sock's skills take him?

While Sock clearly has flaws in his game that he'll need to fix, there shouldn't be any limit to how high he can rise if he's truly committed to improving.  Sock has the advantage of starting with a big serve, huge forehand, nice touch, and great athletic ability that is still somewhat underrated.  While consistency, court positioning and overall strategy can all be improved or taught, the tools he already has are harder to come by. 

When watching Sock play, it's clear he's not a finished product.  Unlike many pros, Sock didn't travel around the world playing junior tournaments and didn't train at a traditional full time tennis academy.  (He opted to play high school tennis while training at an academy in Kansas City).  Thus, it's not surprising that Sock didn't enter the tour fully polished.  He still doesn't always play the right shot, frequently gets himself out of position, hits awkward backhands, and goes for big shots too early in the point.  Despite all this, he's already a top 40 player.  It's easy to see him continuing to improve his game and strategy over the next few years, as he seems to have developed a good work ethic and is headed in the right direction.  

Even small improvements can make a drastic difference given how close the players in the top 40 are to each other.  A few minor tweaks can be the difference between the top 40 and top 15.  If Sock's backhand improves even a little, he won't have to go so far to run around it and risk opening up too much of the court.  While he's clearly got to put in the work to make these improvements, it's hard to imagine his backhand won't improve at least a little given where it's starting from. 

Whether Sock starts competing for Masters titles and Grand Slams in the next few years or remains at the 250 level will depend on how dedicated he is to improving the flaws in his technique and overall strategy.  However, he's clearly got the talent to compete for these bigger titles, and tennis fans shouldn't be surprised if he reaches that level.  The Big Four will be moving on as Sock enters his prime, and there could be openings at some bigger tournaments. 

While there's a strong generation of players emerging in the group a few years younger than Sock, it's not clear anyone out of this group is going to dominate the game and be levels above the field.  Further, he'll have the advantage of being older and more experienced than this younger group.  Sock's prime could coincide with a transitional period on tour, and if he's ready to take advantage could post some big results.  American men's tennis fans have seen too many "next big things" fail to pan out and are reluctant to get excited too early, but Sock may be giving them reasons to celebrate before too long.  

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