Looking at the draw for the U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship in Houston, it won’t take long to find Jack Sock’s name. It’s stationed right at the top, above all his competitors, with a No. 1 ranking next to it. At twenty four years old, Sock is playing his first ATP tournament as the favorite to win it all.
A couple of reasons for this: First, the biggest players on tour have for the most part decided to take the week off. The Masters 1000 in Monte Carlo starts next week, and everyone from Djokovic to Murray to Wawrinka will be preparing for the opportunity to add a thousand ranking points to their year-long totals. Houston only has 250 points to offer, so despite its existence as the most prestigious clay court tournament in the States, it isn’t much of a destination. Only 28 players will be competing this year, three of whom are American wild cards.
That said, Sock has had an incredibly successful year in order to get where he is today. So far he’s won two titles in 2017, first in Auckland and then in Delray Beach. He made it to the third round in the Australian Open, the quarters in the Miami 1000, and the semis at the Indian Wells 1000. He’s had two wins over top-five players, and currently ranks seventh in the world in the ATP Race to London. This stellar activity has asserted him as the best American on tour right now, and suggests that he hasn’t yet reached his ceiling.
Coming into Houston, Jack Sock is hot enough to be considered the player to beat. He is the only player in the draw within the top 20 in the world, and he already had the experience of winning this tournament two years earlier. In a field that lacks a sufficiency of clay court specialists, he doesn’t seem to have any formidable opponents. The number two seed is held by Sock’s countryman John Isner, a respectable but one-dimensional giant who won this tournament himself in 2013. Both players possess enormous serves, but when it comes to groundstrokes and rallies, Sock certainly has the upper hand.
In order to get to Isner, though, Sock will have to fend off several other past champions. In his half of the draw reside 2016 winner Juan Monaco, 2014 winner Fernando Verdasco, and 2004 winner Tommy Haas. Sock will play the thirty nine year old Haas in his first match of the tourney, in a symbolic matchup of old versus new. If Sock is to one day be feared by others on tour, he’ll have to get past matches like Haas’ without a scratch on him. They say getting to the number one seed is hard. But keeping it is harder.