Nadal topples Sock in thriller
But for the width of a net cord, Jack Sock might have held a match point against Rafael Nadal – such are the margins in Laver Cup. Seeing his forehand loop into the tramlines at 8-8 after a monumental effort to turn the match around was a hammer blow for the American, who was edged out 6-3 3-6 11-9 by a relieved world No.1. With that Team Europe moved into a 7-1 lead ahead of the night session, while Team World were left to wonder what might have been.
“I liked my chances there,” Sock said, recalling the point at 8-8 that would have left him serving for the win. But that has been the story for Team World over the first two days. “It’s not even my match – all the matches, everyone yesterday. It says we are down 7-1, but this could easily be us up 5-3 at worst. Four, five points, gone. It does suck.”
Saturday was meant to be Team Europe’s day. With advance warning of John McEnroe’s Team World selections, Bjorn Borg made his picks to play to both the strengths of his side and to the weaknesses of their opponents.
Exhibit A: Nadal versus Sock. While the American possesses a fearsome forehand and serve, his backhand can be exposed – as so many others have been – by Nadal’s looping lefty forehand, which typically flies too high to power through the ball. Four times the pair had met previously, and four times Nadal had prevailed, including their two meetings earlier in 2017. But Sock only had to turn the clock back less than 24 hours for a motivational fillip, having beaten Nadal and Tomas Berdych for Team World’s first point of the weekend with Nick Kyrgios.
Sock knew he needed to produce something truly special to dent the Nadal armoury – in the opening game he danced so far around an inside-out forehand that he found himself near the court boundary. It was a high-risk strategy, and while there were flashes of success as he broke back to love with some fine scrambling, Rafa reaped the greater rewards. His defence was exemplary, and a sweep from corner to corner before sprinting forward to poke the ball past Sock at the net drew a huge fist-pump that brought Team Europe to their feet.
The first set was settled with an ace after 36 minutes, and Nadal looked in complete control with a break for a 2-1 lead at the start of the second. But with McEnroe urging his man to stay aggressive with the forehand, Sock turned the set on its head, claiming the next four games en route to levelling the match, firing an ace of his own to send the match into a super tiebreak.
The tension was palpable, and only raised by the sight of Sock hitting the deck while sliding after a ball at 2-1 and holding his hamstring. The American got back to his feet as Nadal capitalized to open up a 5-1 lead, only to see Sock dig in and produce a stunning backhand to draw level at 8-8. Then came that fateful forehand, and Sock’s last point in the driver’s seat went begging.
“It was close, no?” admitted Nadal, who will face Sock for a third time in 24 hours when they meet in Saturday’s doubles once more – Sock with Sam Querrey, Nadal with Federer.
“Of course, playing against Jack always is a big challenge. He played aggressive, some amazing forehands. And I was there all the time, no?
“I needed to serve a little bit better than I did. For the rest of the game, I think I was playing quite well. The serve needs to be a little bit better in this type of court, because I break him three times – that is a lot in two sets – and still lost the second set with a break. That’s the only thing that I feel that I can do much better.”