Jack Sock — from Bill Gates to big forehands

By Art Spander

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — So Jack Sock, who was discussing dinner with Bill Gates and, oh yes, Roger Federer — those tennis people live life — was asked when an American player, such as Sock, actually might win a Grand Slam tournament, the way Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi used to do.

“So you want to talk tennis now?” Sock said rhetorically — and somewhat disappointedly. He was having such a grand time discussing forecasts of the future provided by Gates, the Microsoft guy, and teasing when someone asked about the forecasts: “I can’t give that away.”

The real issue at the moment — now and forever — is the future of men’s tennis in America. The U.S. ladies, certainly, are in fine shape, literally as well as metaphorically.

Sloane Stephens won the 2017 U.S. Open, and if an American can win only one of the four majors, that’s the one. Thursday night, Serena Williams, who’s won them all, again and again, returns to WTA competition here at the BNP Paribas tournament at Indian Wells Tennis Garden

But no American male has won a Slam tournament since 2003, 15 years if you’re counting. That was Andy Roddick, who is from Nebraska. As is Sock. You never suspected the heart of U.S. men’s tennis was in the heartland of America, did you? Cornfields and forehands.

Down here, it’s cactus and streets named for celebrities, starting with Bob Hope Drive and Frank Sinatra Drive. Gerald Ford has his roadway. Tennis? Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain, who’s won the French Open and Wimbledon, walked the red carpet at the Academy Awards Sunday night 130 miles up the road in Hollywood. According to one story she “turned heads in a black asymmetrical gown and had many asking, ‘Who is Garbiñe Muguruza?’”

Until the end of last year, the question from the casual sports fan might have been: who is Jack Sock? Then he won three titles, qualified for the ATP Championships (for which he was unprepared) and coming in at No. 9 was the first U.S. man to end the year in the top ten since Roddick in 2010, seven years earlier, a lifetime in tennis.

You would think Sock would be excited. He was, with an asterisk. He had his late summer and fall all organized, and then, wham, he had fly to London to be one of the eight singles contestants in the Nitto ATP Finals, which is sort of like the sport’s March Madness in November.

The next thing he knew, he was in the Australian Open this January. If not for long, losing in the first round. Around the world, and plop.

“That day I flew home from Melbourne,” said Sock, who lives in Kansas City, “and I was in the gym. For four weeks, I was trying to get my mind straight again.”

Success, or the result of success, had socked the 25-year-old Sock.

“I had no expectation of being in London,” he said. “I had to redo my schedule. I had no idea of what was going on. I had some commitments, traveling a lot in the off-season, things that in hindsight I wouldn’t have scheduled. But you live and learn.

“I took time off after Australia. Home in my own bed for more than two days. I feel a lot more confident now.”

To be invited to take part in the Federer-Gates exhibition and dinner, the money from the sellout crowd at SAP Arena in San Jose, $2.5 million, going to Federer’s African educational fund, verifies Sock’s new status.

He’s the so-called heir apparent in U.S. tennis, a designation he accepts with a cringe. 

“It’s enjoyable when you don’t talk about it,” he said. “I understand every time you talk about this. There’s such a rich history of American tennis, the fans here are used to somebody winning a Slam or at least competing for a Slam. Obviously there hasn’t been anyone at that level quite yet

“We’re doing our best. But there are a couple of guys, one named Federer, another named (Rafael) Nadal and another named (Novak) Djokovic. So it’s not the easiest thing to weasel your way in there in and win.”

Which is why a Grand Slam means so much.


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