Jack Sock has extended his flawless record against Marin Cilic to three straight wins, keeping his hopes alive of reaching the semi-final stage at the prestigious Nitto ATP Finals in London. Cilic got his nose in front but Sock came soaring back, oozing awesome power and an array of trick shots to topple Cilic: 5-7, 6-2, 7-6(4).

Wednesday’s first match at the O2 Arena in London saw the two losers of the first round robin matches of the so-called Boris Becker group square off against each other. Freshly crowned Paris Masters champion and new American no.1 Jack Sock played enthralling tennis against six-time former champion Roger Federer but never really got a foothold in the match, as he got cast aside in a routine looking 6-4, 7-6(4) win for the Swiss.

Marin Cilic possibly had even more to proof than his American opponent. Not only did he suffer a mentally tough loss in his opener against next-gen star Sascha Zverev in three sets, his head-to-head record with Sock sees a surprising 2-0 deficit. Both of those losses were on American soil in 2016. One Davis Cup encounter that went the distance and a third round upset at Flushing Meadows where Jack beat the 2014 US Open champ emphatically in straights.

Cilic returns a guiding forehand back to Sock

With the gaping wound that world no.1 Nadal’s premature departure had left behind at this year’s Nitto ATP Finals, following his shock loss to David Goffin on Tuesday, one is quick to forget there is still a title worthy of 1500 points to collect in London. Hopefully the Spaniard can recuperate fully from his troubling knee and fight for titles again in 2018.

Immediately Sock made his intentions and presence clear for the Croat with a deafening blow from the tramlines, hitting an inside out forehand screaming return that skidded off the side line. Cilic looked a little rattled and Sock mounted the pressure that resulted in a break on the second time of asking.

Sock would not enjoy the early break for long as Cilic took it to him by taking the ball early which resulted in a break of serve when Sock’s forehand sailed long. Next up was a quick hold and it was just what the doctor ordered for Cilic as he lead the contest for the first time: 2-1.

The following game saw Sock the showman again pull off a beautiful shot: off Cilic’s approach he produced a deft topspin lob volley winner. Amazing stuff. At times the American was guilty of playing it too cute but he leveled the match at 2-2 without all too much fuzz.

Neither player was under the gun in the games that followed, protecting their serve with considerable ease. At 4-4 the air already had a sniff of a certain tiebreak looming ahead. Sock’s winning percentage off Cilic’s second serve delivery were at a measly 29% at this point in time. His tactic of returning the ball from deep in the court simply did not neutralize the Croat’s mighty forehand stroke.

Sock grabbing the towel after a lengthy exchange with Cilic

It didn’t deter the American from deploying all the variety he could muster, but even the drop shot was not out of reach for the 6’6″ 29-year old.

Completely out of the blue Sock was looking to break Cilic’s serve for the second time in the set at 5-5. Earning his break point after a wonderful high intensity rally in which he managed to lob the tall Croat once again. Lady Luck was on the side of the world no.5 though, as a netcord spoiled the party for the American. Back to deuce. Two points later and a wayward wild forehand from Jack meant the 2017 Wimbledon finalist edged ahead again: 6-5.

A technically sound backhand smash from Cilic in the opening point spelled trouble for the world no. 9. In no time Sock was down 0-40. He managed to save two courtesy of his crisp first serve but on the third he overplayed his hand by netting an overly optimistic forehand that instead needed the safety treatment. First set to Cilic: 7-5. Sock’s meltdown would be instant. He fired a ball in disgust towards the closed roof which earned him a warning of misconduct from the umpire.

It’s safe to proclaim the essence of the second set was found in the second serve points won statistic. Cilic was at a healthy 63% while Sock converted just one out of four points on his second serve.

The start of the second set would mirror the first set, however, with Sock breaking Cilic’s serve after the Croat untimely missed an easy overhead and netted a forehand in the last point. This time Sock was ready to unwrap his present and held to lead 2-0.

The American 25-year old was not bristling with confidence. He continued to be one man highlight reel. In the first point of the third game he concocted a side spinning drop volley that had the ball purring with RPMs.

At 2-1, with Sock trying to extend his lead Cilic threatened to break serve after producing a wonderful pass down the line. It wasn’t to be for Cilic this time, Sock fended off the challenge and closed out the game with a dropper that just about creeped over the net.

Jack seemingly had found his rhythm and patience and Cilic needed to do the same if he wanted to get back into the second set. Sock had turned the tables completely on the second serve points won. Cilic was just winning one out of eight points and it saw him fighting for another service hold at 3-1 down.

Guilty of committing three double faults, Cilic pretty much handed Sock another break of serve and all signs pointed towards a third set decider.

The pair had a laugh when Sock was serving for the second set. Umpire Lahyani corrected a point to be replayed to which Sock replied “Oh okay, my bad!”

The role reversal was complete in the key statistic: the second serve point won. Sock boasted a 64% in the second set, while Cilic had slided away to 23%.

Sock fistpumps his way into the decider

But more twists and turns were to come. Cilic would just not give in. A nasty slice battle on break point in the second game earned Marin a hard fought break. He was now leading 2-0. Subsequently Sock threw his racquet to the ground in disgust.

Strengthening the momentum the Croatian player delivered a cracking love service hold and a loud “Allez!”, sending all the right body language to his opponent. Cilic was now 3-0 up.

Cilic playing some aggressive tennis to break Sock in the third set

Some magical shots in the next game saw Sock getting on the scoreboard and he carried that superb play to earn himself a couple of break points on the Cilic serve. Taking it on his second chance when Cilic committed another error from his forehand wing. All was back on serve: 3-2.

No less than four consecutive love service games ensued and with Cilic leading 5-4 it meant crunch time. Both players knew one mistake could be it. Neither one blinked on serve and thus a tiebreak was forthcoming. A fitting end to the match.

Cilic got the first mini-break to lead 4-2 after a slice of fortune made a short ball awkward for Sock. But sometimes, you get the same ball back. Jack sock leveled the score at 4-4 with some incredible footspeed to track down a similar shot that brought the house down.

The next point saw Jack Sock getting the mini-break, just two serves away from victory. A gutsy backhand down the line got him to match point.

He would only need one chance. Cilic couldn’t control the spin on his backhand, letting it sail long. Sock’s celebration was muted but he must have felt ecstatic. Sock took home the win: 5-7, 6-2, 7-6(4).

Jack Sock’s inaugural appearance at the year end championships will be more than just a footnote. He truly has risen to the occasion and looks to be a future contender as well. Cilic now needs a small miracle to make it through to the semi-finals.

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