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Kansas High School Tennis Champ Ready To Impact U.S. Open

Jack Sock celebrates at a Wimbledon match earlier this year.

Over the next two weeks, the best tennis players in the world will be in New York competing in the U.S. Open. The lion’s share of attention is focused on the USA’s Serena Williams as she attempts to complete the Grand Slam. She’s already armed this year with victories at Wimbledon, the French Open and the Australian Open.

But Americans will also be cheering on a rising star on the men’s side, and that Kansas high school grad has a renewed pep in his step.

On sun-drenched courts in Overland Park earlier this week, Jack Sock worked on his tennis game. On the adjacent court, a couple of teenagers stopped to watch for a moment, then resumed with their own play while others around the club just went about their business.

For Sock, the practice session, not far from Blue Valley North High School where he played 80 matches in his four years there and never lost, was serious business. He’s preparing for the U.S. Open, and for the first time at the Open, Sock is seeded No. 28, the same number as his world ranking. Not bad for a 22-year old. 

“Honestly I just want to go and I want to play my style of tennis and the things I’ve been working on over the last few weeks to get ready,” said Sock. “Pretty much the whole summer to get ready for the Mecca. The Open.”

Jack Sock said he loves playing in Flushing Meadows, New York. Five years ago he won the U.S. Open junior title there just as he started his senior year in high school. In 2011, a year after winning the junior title, Sock played against and lost to his idol Andy Roddick at the U.S. Open. Center court at Arthur Ashe Stadium. Both are originally from Nebraska.

“I thought I could do all right. Maybe I didn’t fully believe I could necessarily win, but it was my first time on Arthur Ashe (court),” said Sock. “To play on the biggest court we have in tennis at the U.S. Open, our home Slam, against a guy I grew up watching was pretty special. Friday night under the lights on ESPN, so that was definitely a memory I’ll never forget.”

Jack’s older brother, Eric, lives and teaches tennis in the Kansas City area. He remembered how inspiring Roddick was to him and Jack.

“If this guy could be from Nebraska, from the Midwest, when people were saying you had to be from California, Texas and Florida, then why couldn’t we do it?” asked Eric Sock.

Following the Roddick style of developing a smashing forehand, Sock cracked the million-dollar mark in earnings last year and teamed with Canadian Vasek Pospisil to win the Wimbledon doubles title.

But if you think that Jack Sock’s steady climb didn’t have any — to borrow a tennis term — double faults, then you don’t know Jack. Earlier this year, he finished nine weeks of rehab from surgery for a torn muscle in his pelvic area.

During Jack’s recovery, Eric Sock nearly died from a bacterial infection. After that experience, Eric says he noticed a change in Jack’s outlook on everything.

“It put tennis in more of a backseat,” said Eric Sock. “It could seem like the biggest thing before that happened, then after something like a near-death experience happens to you, you learn to put tennis in perspective.”

This past April in Houston, with his family on hand, Jack Sock won his first professional singles title. He looked forward to that Sunday night celebration.

“You know I have my brother here and my team with me for awhile now through the ups and the downs. To share a moment like this is going to be great,” said Sock after the tournament championship.

No American male has won the U.S. Open since Roddick in 2003. Jack Sock knows that tennis fans long for those days of perennial American contenders.

“Seems like there’s always been someone that’s done it. Right now, not at that point, but definitely we have a good group, I think, coming up,” said Sock.

Could Sock be the one to break through? The only American ranked ahead of him is John Isner, and he’s 30. Tennis writer Nick McCarvel says Sock has the game to do it.

“The window of opportunity is certainly there,” said McCarvel.

McCarvel notes, though, that the Big Four in tennis—Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal aren’t ready to give in.

“They look as motivated as ever, too,” added McCarvel.

Sock is motivated. It’s his favorite time of the year. He’d like to stick around for the second week of the Open. To do that, he’ll be playing the best in the world. Wait a minute — he is one of the best in the world.

Sports have an economic and social impact on our community and, as a sports reporter, I go beyond the scores and statistics. I also bring the human element to the sports figures who have a hand in shaping the future of not only their respective teams but our town. Reach me at gregechlin@aol.com.
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