Jack Sock doesn’t shy away from how last summer ended for him, retiring from the U.S. Open mid-match after a heat-exhaustion-related collapse.
“To go out the way I did was sad for everyone,” Sock says. “I was a little depressed for a while.”
But that was the Jack Sock summer of 2015. Summer 2016 presents us with a new version of Sock—one that will get put to the test with the rigors of Rio 2016 Olympics in August and, of course, what he calls the “mecca” of tennis, the U.S. Open.
“I had a great fall and got the ranking up and this off-season I did a lot of testing on my body,” he says. “I have taken the right measures and the right changes in training, diet and hydration. I have taken it all into account and haven’t had the issue. No, I’ll be more confident: I haven’t had the issue and I won’t have the issue.”
That’s Sock of 2016. Confident in his fitness, his body and his game. And he’ll need that confidence as he backs up his Davis Cup performance in Portland—Sock opened the tie against Croatia with his first-ever come-from-two-sets-behind victory against World No. 12 Marin Cilic to give the U.S. a 2–0 lead before falling to Borna Coric in the deciding rubber, as the U.S. lost 3–2—with an opportunity to represent the red, white and blue once again by competing in the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro the first weeks of August.
“That is a bucket list thing,” he says about the Rio opportunity. “I grew up watching as much Olympics as I could, checking out all the sports. As a kid, you dream of playing your sport and representing your country and seeing the famous rings.”
Sock will soak it all in. He'll walk the opening ceremony, likely with both his iPhone and GoPro both in full record mode. “When I got the nod to go and represent, it took me all of half-a-second to say yes. I am beyond excited.”
Sock knows a thing or two about competing for his country, having debuted for Davis Cup under captain Jim Courier against Uzbekistan last fall. Getting both wins there was a turning point for him. It gave him a shot of confidence and got him ready to work on his body in the off-season.
“I feel I am building a good base, but keeping it up and not losing it throughout the year as the body fatigues,” Sock says. “Now I am doing stuff daily and staying on it, and with better nutrition and hydration.”
Sock says the off-season included a focus on building that solid core, but it has been life beyond the winter that has him feeling confident for his big summer push. He spends more time working on physical maintenance in between those training blocks the season presents. “On the road you can’t go hardcore with your workout and lifting and then play,” he says. “For me, when I finish (playing), I still go and do shoulder maintenance and leg maintenance. It is keeping a base.”
And between the coaching team of Troy Hahn and Mike Wolf, who Sock has called “a second dad” ever since the two worked together in juniors in Kansas, Sock says he gets great mental coaching. “Between Troy and coach Wolf, I have gotten my mind in a much better place,” Sock says. “If things are going sideways or I need to get back on track, I have a guy to talk to.”
He’ll have plenty to talk about this summer, whether Rio or planning for the U.S. Open, Sock’s favorite tournament, which made last year’s departure that much more difficult to handle. When in New York, Sock says he’ll stay in Manhattan and rent a larger room so he isn’t too claustrophobic and can have family and friends visit aplenty.
But when Sock really needs to get away from the mental focus of tennis, he hits the links. “Golf is my main thing I love playing any chance I get,” he says. “A lot of tennis players use that as kind of an escape. It is frustrating when you want to be good and hit bad shots, but, for me, it is four hours of complete relaxation. It gets my mind off tennis for a minute.”
This summer, though, he’ll have only fleeting minutes to take his mind off tennis, and he feels both mentally and physically prepared.
Tim Newcomb covers sports aesthetics—stadiums to sneakers—and training for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.