NEW YORK – As Marin Cilic’s forehand return sailed wide on match point Friday, giving American Jack Sock an upset win over the tournament’s No. 7 seed in straight sets, Sock’s first instinct wasn’t to scream, pump his fist or raise his arms. Instead, the 23-year-old quickly spun 90 degrees to his left, pointed his racket out straight, jabbed it forward and pretended to fence toward a man in the stands.
That spectator was his friend Miles Chamley-Watson, a U.S. Olympic fencer and bronze medalist he met in Rio earlier this month.
“He was able to come out here today,” said Sock after the match. “Kind of on the spot I thought of turning the racquet into—I think it's called a foil? Is that what they call it? Thought of turning the racquet into one of those and doing something for him for coming out.”
Sock hasn’t only brought his new pal from the Rio Games to Queens, he’s carried over his impressive play, advancing to the fourth round of the U.S. Open for the first time in his career with Friday’s 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 victory over the tournament’s 2014 champion.
The American’s serve and improved returns, which propelled him to a gold medal this summer in the mixed doubles event with BethanieMattek-Sands, were present on Friday afternoon. Inside a rumbling Louis Armstrong Stadium—filled to capacity with delirious supporters chanting his name—Sock won 37 of 43 first serve points and reached back for a 138 mph serve, his fastest of the day, to open the final game of the match. His service games put Cilic—whose own big serve helped him win the title just two years ago—on his heels. Sock never faced a break point.
“I’m taking that in, that confidence, and kind of just that flow and rhythm to all these matches,” Sock said. “I think it’s showing."
While his serves were unmanageably hot at times, his body temperature was not. One year after Sock collapsed in 90-degree heat and was forced to retire in the third round of the Open, he had a surplus of energy left afterward. The Kansas City native was glowing just an hour after winning, rolling into his post-match presser with a smoothie-filled Starbucks cup in one hand and his phone—playing Luke Combs’ Hurricane at near-maximum volume—in the other.
Ironically, a hurricane is one of two things that Sock will have to brace for heading into the fourth round, as tropical storm Hermine heads towards New York this weekend. The other is ninth-ranked Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who rolled over No. 27-seed Kevin Anderson on Friday and has dropped just one set in his first three matches. The 31-year-old Frenchman has hit 46 aces during the tournament, tied for third among the men, and will surely test Sock’s aforementioned return. The pair has only met once in their careers, on clay at the Madrid Masters last year, where Tsonga prevailed in three sets.
“I think he's a guy who likes to lean on the ball,” Sock said of Tsonga. “Likes to be attacking and dictating. If I can throw some variety in there, serve well again, and get into some return games, the chances go up for me.”
If the storm spares Sock, he will try to earn a trip to his first Grand Slam quarterfinal. Even if things don’t go his way, though, Sock’s seventh appearance in the men’s draw at the Open has returned positive results. He rebounded from a disheartening exit in 2015, and gave American tennis fans, who have been searching low and high for the next Andy Roddick, something to look forward to.
And, as Hurricane goes, he’s finally feeling like himself.