Saturday, May 30, 2015

Does Sock Have A Chance Against Nadal?

After pummeling 18 year old Borna Coric, American Jack Sock has set up an intriguing Round of 16 matchup against nine time French Open champion Rafael Nadal.  While Nadal is obviously the heavy favorite (regardless of his recent slump), some people think Sock's extreme firepower could give Nadal trouble. 

While Sock's power should let him make inroads against nearly anyone, Sock could find himself playing a lot more defense in this matchup than he would like.  The second Nadal gets control of a rally, he'll use his heavy crosscourt forehand to attack Sock's relatively weak (though improving) backhand.  When Sock tries to run around it to hit forehands like he always does, he'll be leaving a huge chunk of the court open.  This will mean Nadal can crack his down the line forehand into the open court. 

Most of the players who have beaten Nadal this year have great backhands (i.e. Djokovic, Murray, Wawrinka, Berdych, Fognini) or are left-handed (Verdasco).  Beating Nadal without a strong backhand is nearly impossible, given how well Nadal hits his regular forehand to that side of the court.  Sock does like to hit his backhand down the line, which means he may be able to change the pattern of the point and make Nadal hit backhands.  However, having to consistently rely on down the line backhands isn't a high percentage tactic. 

Sock's best chance is to be extremely aggressive early in the point before Nadal can gain control.  If he can be the one dictating with his forehand he may have a chance, but Nadal's defense will likely make Sock play more shots than he's used to.  If Nadal is misfiring and is truly off his game (as has been the case several times this year) and Sock is on fire, it's possible he pulls the upset.  But it's a very difficult matchup on paper for the American, and we shouldn't be surprised if it's not particularly competitive.  Sock is clearly improving quickly and may not be far away from challenging the top players in the world, but beating Nadal at Roland Garros is likely asking for a little too much a little too soon.

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