Last November in London, Jack Sock beat two top-five players to reach the semifinals of the ATP Finals, a tournament for which only the top eight men qualify. He had earned a spot in the field with a stunning victory at the Paris-Bercy Masters event a week before, launching himself into the top 10 for the first time.
In 2018, Sock’s tennis has come back down to earth — and it’s still falling.
Sock, seeded 18th at Wimbledon, lost in the first round on Tuesday despite winning the first two sets against 81st-ranked Matteo Berrettini, 6-7(5), 6-7(3), 6-4, 7-5, 6-2.
The collapse came after months of uninspiring play. It was the sixth consecutive loss for Sock, 25, who squandered a two-sets-to-one lead in a loss to 136th-ranked Jurgen Zopp in the first round of the French Open in May.
Eager for matches and confidence, Sock took a late entry into the qualifying draw of an ATP tournament in Eastbourne, England, last week. Though his ranking would have made him the No. 2 seed in the main draw had he entered on time, Sock foundered against lowly-ranked opposition in the preliminary rounds, losing in straight sets to No. 316 Daniel Brands.
Sock appeared to be on his way to a victory, finally, on Tuesday after winning the first two sets in tiebreakers. But Sock, who has struggled with his conditioning throughout his career, has not won a match this year that has extended beyond two sets. He was visited by the trainer for treatment on his upper legs before and during the fifth set, and he became increasingly agitated with the chair umpire and Berrettini’s team.
After Berrettini held serve to make it 2-2 in the fifth set, Sock went to complain to the chair umpire. A fan in the crowd urged him to stop: “Put a sock in it, Jack!”
Sock stalled from there, dropping the last four games in yet another 2018 loss. His 2017 season, though, had not been remarkable until what was expected to be his last tournament: the Paris-Bercy Masters.
But it was there that he ignited, after trailing 1-5 in the third set of his opening-round match against Kyle Edmund. He won the match, and then the next four, claiming the Masters title and catapulting himself from 22nd into the top 10 and a shocking qualification for the ATP Finals in London a week later.
He seemed to validate the Paris title with wins in London over Marin Cilic and Alexander Zverev, and Sock finished the year with a career-high ranking of No. 8.
After that crest, Sock plummeted. At his first tournament of the new season, in Auckland, New Zealand, he was defending champion. But his play was so lackluster that it spurred discussion of revoking his appearance fee. His record of 5-14 this year includes only one win over a top-50 player: 38th-ranked David Ferrer. Sock has lost four times to players outside the top 100.
He does not seem eager to discuss it at the moment. Though he was requested for post-match media obligations on Tuesday, Sock left the All England Club without appearing. His manager, Mary Jane Orman, said he left the site without being approached by one of the tournament’s media coordinators and was unaware that he had been requested by reporters.
His absence most likely avoided a repeat of his terse news conference after his first-round loss at the French Open.
Asked how momentum shifted in the match, Sock answered, “The scoreboard changed.”
Sock didn’t have any explanation for why his year had been disappointing.
“It’s been a really bad year, obviously,” he said. “Yeah, I don’t know. Pretty lost right now.”
Sock is still ranked 15th because of the cache of ranking points he got at the end of last season, but he is 146th in the year-to-date rankings. He is likely to fall further after Wimbledon.
After the French Open, Sock parted with his coach, Jay Berger, and began working with Mark Knowles, a Bahamian who won three Grand Slam doubles titles.
Despite his struggles in singles, Sock has continued to succeed in doubles, winning three titles this year. Doubles play has seemed to come more naturally to him throughout his career, and is less demanding physically.