Jack Sock is back on his singles game, looking to rekindle a career that peaked in 2017 with a No. 8 world ranking, then sliding to 9-22 in 2018.
Yet, he’s found success at doubles, even lifting trophies last year at the most prestigious venues in tennis, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, with Mike Bryan. They were the first men’s pair to accomplish that feat since Jonas Bjorkman and Todd Woodbridge in 2003.
“I wasn't the happiest guy on the tennis court, but I was doing well obviously in doubles,” said Sock, who missed six months after having surgery on two torn ligaments in his right thumb. “Now that I've been able to refresh mentally, physically, everything, I'm very excited to be back out playing singles.”
It’s a choice the 26-year-old Sock will have to make: Earn $1.3 million as a doubles player like he did in pairing up with Bryan teamed up for the last half of 2018 or play singles, in which he earned a respectable $738,746 in 2018.
Bryan is one of the famous Bryan twins, who are arguably the greatest men’s doubles team of all time. (Side note: They played team tennis with the Kansas City Explorers before the franchise moved to Texas in 2012.)
Mike’s twin brother Bob was sidelined in 2018 after hip surgery, but he’s healthy again and has rejoined his brother. But they're 41 and, soon, another American doubles team will grab the baton.
Sock doesn’t have an issue with doubles. He just doesn't want to turn to it to make a living. He told The New York Times in January: "If I'm not relevant in the singles world and my only choice is to play doubles, I'd probably stop playing tennis."
Mike Bryan saw that, and weighed in with a laugh: “I don't love reading those quotes, but I still love the guy.”
Still, Sock stands by that assertion as he returns to the singles circuit.
“I love playing doubles. I love playing my friends and all that,” he said. “I love when it fits into my singles schedule, but I really can't foresee myself being in my 30s and traveling just to play doubles.”
Sock's discontent last year strikes a chord with Diego Gutierrez, who did two stints with the Kansas City Wizards (now Sporting KC) in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
“In the locker room, I even had teammates who were performing at a major league league level
who hated their job,” Gutierrez said.
Now at Rockhurst University's Helzberg School of Management, Gutierrez received his doctorate this summer and is trying to steer students in the right direction. He advises them to take a self-inventory of what they like and what they're good at, but knows it doesn’t always work out as planned.
“You can take formal training. You can take your talents and try to maximize them,” he said. “But in reality, a lot of people end up doing jobs that they don't necessarily like.”
Mike Bryan thinks Sock has the qualities for that next dominant doubles team, but concedes Sock still has a shot at doing even bigger things in singles.
“He's got the skills, the talent and I think he can win a Grand Slam in singles, too. He has that much ability. No one's got as much pop on the floor, as much revolutions,” Bryan said. “He's one of the quickest guys I've seen. He's quicker than (Rafael) Nadal, (Novak) Djokovic, all these guys.”
Sock lost his singles match in straight sets (7-6, 7-6) in the first round of the Atlanta Open against unseeded Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia.
But in doubles, he reached the semifinals with current partner Jackson Withrow.
Withrow, 26, is long past coming to terms with the fact that he wasn't going anywhere as a pro singles player. And he has no hang-ups about competing full-time in doubles.
“I made myself be a little bit more aware, and I like the team aspect,” he said.
Sock has captured four singles titles and 14 doubles titles. One could speculate about how much he's sacrificing from a monetary standpoint in doubles. But that's a gamble Sock is willing to make.
Greg Echlin is a freelance sports reporter for KCUR 89.3.