Jack Sock holds at love with a blazin’ ace to take the second game of the first set in less than a minute.
Sock, who looks exactly like the all-American varsity athlete he is, is favored to win the Paris-Bercy tournament, the last Masters 1000 on the men’s tour, but ya never know. His opponent is another 25-year-old, Filip Krajinovic, whom no one has ever heard of until this week, but is that not also what they said of his compatriot, the mighty Novak Djokovic? Is that not what they say of Serbia? Beware: he has a superb serve, a bold serve-and-volley game, a power backhand.
He was helped along in the quarters by No. 1 Rafael Nadal’s forfeit due to knee injury, but he is a Young Man to Watch, no question.
Back on serve, he hits two aces and it sure looks like Jack Sock has a fight on his hands. He takes that game to 40-30, then to deuce with one of his big forehands straight to the baseline. Sock nets a forehand return of serve, then misses a great forehand crosscourt shot by centimeters — smaller than inches — giving the Serb the game.
However, he looks stronger. Holding his own service with ease, he repeatedly threatens to break the Somborian with his forehand, arguably the best on the Tour.
Both 25, neither has yet won a Masters 1000 — just under the Grand Slams in prestige (Sock has won two in doubles). The man from Sombor trained in Florida, in the renown Bollettieri school, and has been known mainly on the Challenger circuit, the minor leagues of tennis. Sock, a Nebraska native, played in high school in Kansas and won his first Slam at the 2011 U.S. Open, in mixed doubles with Melanie Oudin. He took the gold medal at the 2016 Olympics in mixed, with Bethanie Mattek-Sands, having won the gentlemen’s doubles at Wimbledon with Vasek Pospisil in 2014.
You can see he is nervous — double faults into a break to go down 2-4. Krajinovic returns the favor in the next game for the back-break and they are back on serve. Sock has more at stake — not only the first Masters 1000, but a place at the end-of-year ATP Finals if he wins; for Krajinovic, it’s mainly a first-famous-win match, which is not to say that doesn’t put a lot of pressure on him, too.
As the Surprise of the Tournament, he beat Sock’s friend John Isner in the semis in a nailbiting third-set tiebreak, 7-5. Krajinovic saves the ninth game with a serve and backhand volley followed by a strong first serve that Sock shanks back, 5-4. The feeling at Bercy — you can tell this even on TV by watching the rapt French spectators, some in their traditional Sunday best, elegant and looking like they ate too much for lunch, others in pretend-American casual garb, including the New York Yankees baseball caps. Thanks to cheap Paris-NYC fares, a consequence of competitive free markets, French and Arabs now make up the main customers, after native Nooyawkers, at Manhattan retail establishments, notably the Century-21 and Macy’s department stores. However, Krajinovic sends an easy backhand long and then puts a drop shot in the net that he should have caught, then is surprised by another Sock drop shot from the baseline to lose the 10th game. He steadies himself to hold and thanks to a bit of luck — a fantastic Sock backhand return of service nicks the tape and flies out — it’s 6-5.
An inside out forehand winner by Krajinovic, a forehand error by Sock, a forehand winner by Sock — the Nebraskan has a tough time on serve for the second time this set, ends it by netting a serve-plus-one forehand that shows just how much he’s on edge after playing a remarkably cool and collected, even serene, tournament, dominating home favorite Julien Benneteau in the semis despite a vociferously partisan audience.
The set blown by that forehand miss, Sock settles down and it soon becomes apparent that his experience — including running for president without making a single campaign appearance last year and participating in the first Laver Cup a few weeks ago — plus his speed, devastating forehands, and hair-raising bombs from both wings, are under control. Sock has a steady inside out forehand and an absolutely vicious whipping crosscourt shot that no one can even clock. He quickly gets ahead to 5-3.
Krajinovic doubles, gets an easy serve plus one, then nets an easy backhand, normally his reliable side, to fall to 15-30. An elegant serve and volley evens the score — he’s good at those, and he goes to the net again in the next point after forcing Sock into his backhand corner, then holds with the next serve, which Sock nets.
I should be a broadcaster, call the games, but tennis radio dipped after the amazing never surpassed fifth game of the 1937 Davis Cup, between Don Budge and Baron Gottfried von Cramm. However, I will observe that we at TAS called attention to Jack Sock long before anybody else as far as we know (our emphasis), as per this superb essay (our terminology) from the French Open.
Sock gets a revenge shot at the net to go 40-0, with a play worthy of Steve McQueen wherein he knocks a ball right back from the net to Krajinovic and turns away, assuming it will be easily lobbed or passed, then, realizing (this is all in split seconds) the other man instead is firing it right back at him from the service line, he lifts his racquet to block and return it for the passing winner. He takes the set 6-4, and this despite some really lousy line calls. One of these linesmen wears glasses — you gotta wonder if he doesn’t need a new prescription. Now, now, let’s not be biased against foreigners.
The other fellow is tiring, and Sock is drawing errors out of him, including on his allegedly superb backhand. This “allegedly” is neither sarcasm nor biased reporting. No one had ever heard of Filip Krajinovic and here he was beating Isner to get into the final, so they had to scramble to explain it — this is the tennis media I am talking about — and someone came up with “he has a great backhand” (he does, by the way), and the herd of independent minds needed no more.
To be fair and impartial, Krajinovic gets a good overhead volley smash on the next point, then makes Sock shank a service return. But Sock gets a break point with a sensational backhand down the line that leaves Krajinovic looking stunned. On the next point he hits a similar passing shot from the other wing that leaves him looking even more stunned! Fantastic! Kansas-Nebraska! (Sock studied at the Mike Wolf Tennis Academy in Kansas and roots for the Chiefs.) (And don’t let the liberals misguide you as to the significance of Kansas-Nebraska in American history, either!)
Another sensational backhand cross-court passing shot and it’s the convert, 4-1 for Sock, and he’s clearly pumped up as they change over, while Krajinovic slumps into despond.
But, as per the comeback against Isner, you can’t write off this young man from Sombor, which, note, he has put on the map because until yesterday almost no one — in the whole world — had ever heard of this place, except my friends Stanko and Mirjana, who live in Paris, not Sombor, but know where it is. They are the authors of the two essential books about the Balkans — specifically, the Balkans and the West — since Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Stanko’s Dans les griffes des humanistes and Mirjana’s La fabrique de l’avenir. (Those are the French titles, I haven’t found the time to learn Serbo-Croatian.) These are essential books. A full discussion must await another day but, as with Sock (cf. ref above), you read it first in The American Spectator and, yes, this is a placement ad.
My other Balkan friend Magdalena is, in fact, from Sombor. However, she does not know Filip Krajinovic, despite it’s a very small town, near Croatia and, she reports, very green with trees and other foliage.
Well, Sombor’s hope gets up a good lead in the seventh game, but the Kansas City (Kansas) ace is not giving an inch and he reaches the championship point with a passing forehand, closes it out as a Krajinovic backhand from the baseline sails long. He runs into the stands to hug his coaches and kiss his girl friend, and where better celebrate, if you are from Kansas, than Paris.
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