Fifth-seeded Marin Cilic and eighth-seeded Jack Sock did not get off to their desired start at the Nitto ATP Finals. But they both can take a step in the right direction when they face off in the afternoon singles match at The O2 on Tuesday.
Both players had very different openers in London.
Cilic looked to be in control against the youngest player in the field, third-seeded Alexander Zverev, leading by a break in the third set. But the German won five of the final six games to shock the Croatian. Cilic’s record fell to 1-6 at the Nitto ATP Finals, which he is playing in for the third time.
Sock, on the other hand, never had the match under his control against second-seeded Roger Federer, who has won 30 of his past 32 matches. The Swiss broke the 25-year-old American immediately and never looked back. While Sock showed the good form that helped propel him from No. 24 in the Emirates ATP Race To London to inside the cut in the Race’s final week, Federer was simply too good.
“Roger puts a pressure on you that I feel no other player really does,” Sock said. “I’ll definitely be able to maybe hit my way into the next few matches, have some longer rallies, not feel sort of the presence he puts on you when you’re out there.”
The American will also feel comfort knowing that he has won both of his FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings against Cilic, which happened to be two of the biggest wins of his career. Sock came back from two sets down in a Davis Cup rubber last year before eliminating the seventh seed in straight sets at the US Open later in the season.
But Cilic knows that his chances of advancing to the semi-finals at the season finale for the first time will take a big hit if he loses against Sock.
“I believe I need to win that one to give myself a chance to go through,” Cilic said. “It’s a slightly different tournament than what we were used to. Even with the loss, you can go through. I’m just going to try to stay positive and focus on the next match.”
It will be interesting to see who will win the battle between each player’s best stroke — Sock’s overpowering topspin forehand and Cilic’s rock-solid backhand. Sock is likely to shade to his backhand corner to hit as many forehands as possible, which may open up space for Cilic to unleash his more consistent shot: his backhand down the line.
While both players lost their opening matches, they will not be short in confidence. Cilic climbed to a career-high of No. 4 in the Emirates ATP Rankings in October, while Sock battled from 1-5 down in his opening match in Paris to claim his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title, which propelled him not only into the Nitto ATP Finals, but the Top 10 of the rankings for the first time.
Either Cilic will bounce back from a tough opener, or Sock will earn his first year-end finale victory.