By Leighton Ginn
INDIAN WELLS — With a kick serve that stayed out of Kei Nishikori’s sweet zone, Jack Sock advanced to his first ATP 1000 semifinal with his 6-3, 2-6, 6-2 victory Friday at the BNP Paribas Open.
“Kick serve especially on these courts is deadly for me,” Sock said. “So that was a big part of the game plan for me today going in. If Kei is hitting the ball in the strike zone, he is going to beat pretty much anyone in the world and can on any given day.
“For me, it was all about trying to get him out of that slot and let him not be taking balls at his hip and waist and dictating play. So the kick serve for me today was crucial, first and second serve, and that’s what I used it a lot.”
The Sock-Nishikori match started at 2 p.m., the hottest part of the day, and Sock said the conditions played into his strategy, based on what he saw from fellow American John Isner.
“I think every player knows, everyone that watches knows the day and night difference and how lively the ball is, how much it gets up on these courts,” Sock said. “There’s a tremendous difference. I saw when John was playing the other night, from day to night for him is an eight-inch difference on his serve.”
Sock will face four-time BNP Paribas Open champion Roger Federer in Saturday’s second semifinal. It is Sock’s best showing in singles, but he’s also had success in doubles at Indian Wells, having reached the finals the past two years.
He won the doubles title in 2015 with Vasek Pospisil. The duo combined to win the Wimbledon title as well.
Also in 2015, Sock reached the fourth round of singles at the BNP Paribas Open before getting knocked out by Federer in straight sets. In his previous three Indian Wells performances, Sock never won a singles match at the BNP Paribas Open.
But it was more than just the results that made 2015 a turning point for Sock.
Prior to Indian Wells, he had pelvic surgery that knocked him out of the start of the 2015 season, which turned out to be a blessing.
His brother Eric suffered pneumonia and Lemierre’s syndrome a bacterial infection in the throat. With complications, Eric had to move to ICU and was on a ventilator. He nearly died.
Eric survived, and Sock dedicated that 2015 run to him.
It also changed Sock in significant ways.
“There were definitely a lot of things going on outside of tennis,” Sock said. “I think it helped me grow outside of tennis, outside of the tennis court, which has helped me in these past few years.
“I think that’s why my results have trended in the right direction. I have realized, yeah, I love tennis, it’s my career, you know, it’s my job, and I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. But since his illness and everything, it’s kind of helped me take a step back and realize life is bigger than tennis, for sure. I think it’s helped me enjoy every moment out there, as well. It’s helped me relax on court a little bit.”