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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

Golden chance for Jack Sock to build on Paris Masters title victory

But even if American fails to capitalise on breakthrough at World Tour Finals and beyond, he will always have Paris memories

Until Sunday, Jack Sock's only three ATP titles had all been at 250 level. Christophe Petit Tesson / EPA
Until Sunday, Jack Sock's only three ATP titles had all been at 250 level. Christophe Petit Tesson / EPA

There was a feeling of it being a step into the unknown about Sunday's line up for the Paris Masters final.

You had Jack Sock, who had gone into the match ranked at No 22, up against Filip Krajinovic, a Serbian at No 77 in the world, who had only reached the main draw as a qualifier in the first place.

It highlighted the last man standing element of men's tennis in 2017 with so many of the established players either missing with injury or having lost in the early rounds.

There was no Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori due to injury.

Add in Roger Federer deciding to give it a miss with one eye on the ATP World Tour Finals, which begin on Sunday, and that was a lot of star power already sidelined.

Then you had world No 1 Rafael Nadal pulling out before his quarter-final against Krajinovic with a knee problem, and it left the competition wide open, especially as those top seeded players who did compete also struggled.

It was Sock, 25, who stepped up and seized the opportunity to prevail with a 5-7, 6-4, 6-1 victory as he became the first American since Andre Agassi in 1999 to win the last of the nine Masters events of the year.

In the process the American became the first unseeded player to win the title since a 20-year-old Tomas Berdych prevailed in 2005.

Considering until Sunday that Sock's only three ATP titles had all been at 250 level, stepping up to triumph in a Masters 1,000 tournament is quite the step up and it has pushed his name into the limelight.

He has broken into the top 10 in the world as a result, No 9 in the rankings published on Monday, and the result also earned him the final spot in the World Finals in London.

It has been quite a week for a player who has never been beyond the last 16 at a grand slam tournament, and the question he now has to answer in the coming months is if this is the start of a push towards the top for Sock, or if it will go down as an one-off achievement?

At the Laver Cup in September, the American captain John McEnroe was heard telling Sock during his match with Nadal when the game was in the balance: “This is the next step for you.

“You’ve got to decide, you’re 25 years old tomorrow, you’ve got to not take no for an answer because you’re with this guy.”

Though he did not win on that occasion as the world No 1 won, McEnroe's challenge to his charge is fitting in the greater context of his career.

Sock will be the weakest player, in rankings term at least, at the World Tour Finals, with the rest of the field made up of Nadal, Federer, Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem, Marin Cilic, Grigor Dimitrov and David Goffin.

Given he has winning career records against both Cilic (2-0) and Dimitrov (3-1), he will feel he can definitely win at least one group game match in London, and if he can reach the knockout stages it would be a sensational effort.

But the real signs of where Sock is going in tennis will be next year.

As a top 10 player he will get good draws at tournaments and at least the Australian Open. If he can capitalise on that with some deep runs in some of the early competitions, that can establish him firmly among the leading players.

Whether he can consistently compete against the leading players consistently will be his challenge, as while he did prevail in Paris, the highest-ranked player he beat was Lucas Pouille (the No 18) in the last 16.

That was only his fourth win over a top 10 player in 2017, the others being Raonic twice at Delray Beach and Washington, and Nishikori at Indian Wells.

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Sock has also become the No 1 American man for the first time, leapfrogging John Isner with his Paris efforts.

It is more than 14 years since an American, in the shape of Andy Roddick, won a major title.

The drought is even more noticeable considering how well served the country has been served by the women in that time with Serena Williams (17), Venus Williams (3) and Sloane Stephens (1) winning 21 titles between them since September 2003 when Roddick claimed the US Open.

Sock will aim to be the man to follow in Roddick's footsteps, but the Paris Masters is not always a guarantee of going on to bigger and better things.

For Greg Rusedski (1998), Sebastien Grosjean (2001), Tim Henman (2003), Berdych (2005), Robin Soderling (2010) and David Ferrer (2012) it was the only Masters title of their respective careers and none of the six have won a major either.

Sock now has the chance to make a name for himself, starting in London. But even if Paris does prove to be as good as it gets for him, at least he will always have that week in the French capital to look back on.

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