The Match: Milos Raonic (CAN)  vs. [WC] Jack Sock (USA), Men’s Singles, First Round. A new top 10 player vs. a rising American star.
The Time: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 (not before 7pm EST)
The Place: Grandstand Court, Western & Southern Open, Cincinnati
Tonight, at Cincinnati’s Western & Southern Open, Canadian Milos Raonic gets another crack at American Jack Sock. Raonic is the guy who just arrived here from Montreal’s Rogers Cup, where, although he went down in defeat, he became the first Canadian men’s singles player ever to make the ATP top 10.
I say “another crack” because Sock bounced Raonic out of the first round at the U.S. National Indoor Tennis Championships in Memphis in February with a score of 6-3, 5-7, 7-5. It was one of the most notable singles victories of Sock’s career to that point. Their match in Memphis was a three-setter that took place the week after Raonic successfully defended his title in San Jose. Raonic may not have been the victor over Nadal in Montreal (the final score was 6-2, 6-2), but the energy spent preparing for, playing and dealing with a final gives Sock an opportunity similar to the Memphis scenario.
Raonic (and, especially fellow Canadian Vasek Pospisil, who moved up his position in the rankings even more numbers than Raonic) just had the best week of his career. Not only did he make a surprisingly deep run in the Rogers Cup, but he got to do it on home turf… which could work against Raonic in Cincinnati, if his body hasn’t had sufficient time to recover. Unless the player is a consistent top player, the week following an appearance in a tournament final can be more challenging than most players would like to admit. The body needs time to repair from a string of matches that are increasingly difficult by design. Losing the Montreal final against Nadal appeared to have left Raonic mentally and physically drained. His struggle with an arm injury (which seemed to be evident early on in Montreal) could also become an issue. Sock, known for his lethal serve-forehand combination, is now the one on home-court territory. Sock excels on the fast, hard courts and from the looks of his practice sessions here in Cincinnati, he is in better physical shape than ever.
No doubt tonight’s match will be decided by just a few serves, a few unforced errors, a couple of risks taken and a few debatable decisions, and whoever wins will face Janko Tipsarevic in round two. Tipsarevic defeated American Sam Querrey 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-4 in the first round. Raonic and Sock both bring powerful games to the match, but even with Raonic’s recent beneficial coaching situation change (he’s now working with Ivan Ljubicic), Sock is instinctively still the more aggressive player of the two (no matter who is coaching him). It’s an opportunity for Sock to show Cincinnati fans why he is now the third ranked American in the ATP (behind John Isner and Sam Querrey).
Like most other players here, Sock came to Cincinnati in preparation for his upcoming appearance at the U.S. Open. En route, Sock visited his home state of Nebraska, where he joined American Express and the USTA in breaking ground at three park tennis courts that’ll be refurbished as part of the Fresh Courts program. Once arrived in Cincinnati, Sock stepped onto the familiar blue and green U.S. Open Series courts and has been practicing and anticipating round one.
The night before his first round match, I asked Sock to choose one word to describe how he felt. His response was just what I expected from a guy who spent some time Sunday afternoon in the Cincinnati player’s lounge, watching Raonic get pummeled by Rafael Nadal in the Montreal final — “Ready.”
So are we, Jack. So are we.