Local tennis phenom prepared for US Open
Regrets? Oh, there've been glories and surgeries, followed by weeks of rehabilitation, hours of tedium, false starts and the occasional sliver of false hope. But no regrets.
"Yeah, I love to go to Kansas City and visit and see my friends," Sock, the tennis prodigy out of Blue Valley North High School in Overland Park, says from New York City, where he's preparing to defend his mixed doubles title at the 2012 U.S. Open. "And when I get a chance, (I'll) go back and reconnect with them and get that little bit of 'normal life,' too. But I love what I do. And I'm enjoying it. So far, I can't complain."
From a maturity standpoint, Sock is 19 going on 37, quick feet and laser focus, a ninja with a racket. The pro tour is a hamster's wheel that never stops spinning. Living out of a suitcase isn't for everyone.
Last summer, after graduating from high school, Sock elected to forgo the college route - Nebraska and Texas were though to be in the mix - and become a full-time professional. Since then, he's locked horns with Andy Roddick under the bright lights of Flushing Meadows; won a U.S. Open mixed doubles crown; shredded an abdominal muscle; gone under the knife; and built his game back up from scratch.
You could call Sock's first calendar year on the circuit a lot of things. But 'boring' wouldn't be one of them.
"More than anything, I feel like I'm in better physical shape (than a year ago)," says Sock, who received a wild card berth in the U.S. Open singles tournament, which begins Monday at Arthur Ashe Stadium. "My game's a little bit more polished up, but also there's a lot more to improve on … in general, I feel much more confident about it, much more at ease about all that."
Lately, it's been about tweaks. He fixed some footwork things. He got a few technical glitches ironed out. Mostly, he got healthy.
Sock had climbed to No. 306 in the world rankings this past January when an MRI revealed a torn abdominal muscle. He elected for surgery in March, then spent four months on the mend. It was the most serious blow to the fast track since a recurring foot and heel problem at the age of 13 forced Jack in out of action for almost a year.
"One of his comments to me, more toward the end of his recovery (was), 'I can serve and it's not hurting my abdominals,'" Jack's father Larry recalls. "Serving and overhand, that's where he could feel it by far the most."
That serve's got more oomph now, thanks to careful upper-body work and a better diet - no more eating at Chipotle for 18 straight nights, which Sock did two years ago en route to a 2010 U.S. Open boys' singles crown. This was a reconstruction process crafted partly in Sock's native Lincoln, where his older brother Eric plays on Nebraska men's tennis team; and partly in Las Vegas, where he worked with Andre Agassi, Darren Cahill and strength and conditioning coach Gil Reyes.
"He got me in the best shape of my career," Sock says of the latter.
And the timing couldn't be better: Sock opened the week ranked No. 248 in the world in singles - a jump of 60 spots from his ranking of 308 on February 13 - and No. 247 in doubles. He's 4-5 in singles matches since returning the court on July 9, but wins at Newport, R.I, Atlanta, and Vancouver have got the juices flowing again.
"He's the kind of kid that, in general, takes things pretty well in stride," Larry says. "For some reason, the plane's delayed, or he has to change planes, he doesn't let it upset him too much. He knows there are some things you can control, and some things you can't."
At last year's U.S. Open, Sock raised eyebrows by winning the mixed doubles title with Melanie Oudin at the age of 18 and for notching a first-round singles victory over Frenchman Marc Gicquel. This trip to the Big Apple brings something new, something else he can't control: Expectations.
"I know I can play at that level. I know I had a chance to beat guys like that and beat (name) guys," Sock says. "I think going forward, (that) was a big confidence-booster for me. After a winning a match last year, it helps even more in (terms of) confidence."
No doubts. No pain. No regrets. Jack Sock isn't much for dissecting the past. At Flushing Meadows, it's all about the returns. The happier, the better.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org