On his way up the ATP rankings, Jack Sock has been looking down — down at his navy, teal and white Adidas tennis shoes with the message “4UERIC” hand written across the side of each heel in black permanent marker.
Sock, a 22-year-old American who grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, lives in Tampa and defeated Go Soeda of Japan 6-3, 6-4 on Wednesday in the first round of the Miami Open, is using his older brother Eric to fuel his already inspired play.
“I’m coming out playing for a little bit more than myself, a little bit more than tennis in general,” said Sock, ranked 45th in the world after rising 825 spots since 2010. “I’m coming out inspired by my brother … because he’s gone through more than most people have in their lives. He was 24 hours away from dying. It took a lot of guts for him to get through that.”
Eric Sock, a former tennis player at the University of Nebraska, caught what doctors classified as bilateral pneumonia, or more specifically Lemierre Syndrome.
“It’s a one-in-a-million infection,” Sock said. “Doctors that we trust in Kansas City said they’d never seen it in their careers and likely will never see it again. It’s that rare. It started as a sore throat, and the infection spread down into his lungs and kidneys and heart. He had failure in all the big organs in one day.”
Eric, 24, was on a ventilator for a week, underwent surgery but is now recovering, said Jack, who was rehabilitating from his own surgery in December to repair a torn right pelvis.
Sock, making his fourth appearance in Miami, belted five aces Wednesday to dispose of Soeda in 1 hour 6 minutes. He returned to competition earlier this month at Indian Wells, California, where he posted three victories (including one in which he saved a match point against higher-ranked Gilles Muller of Luxembourg) to reach the fourth round before falling to world No.2 Roger Federer.
Then, Sock won the doubles title at Indian Wells with Canadian Vasek Pospisil. The losing duo included Italy’s Fabio Fognini, ranked 23rd in singles and Sock’s next opponent on Friday.
Sock and Pospisil won their first Grand Slam doubles title at last year’s Wimbledon and will be competing together this week.
“I love playing doubles. I always have,” the 6-3, 185-pound Sock said, clarifying, however, that “singles definitely is a priority.”
“… Now we’ve played a few weekends at tournaments, and we’re the last few guys in the locker room. Hopefully, if I get to that point in singles I’ll have the experience there.”
Sock pointed out that after 24th-ranked John Isner, he is among the next four highest-ranked Americans — all in a row: No.42 Sam Querrey, No.43 Steve Johnson, No.44 Donald Young and Sock.
“We’re all pushing each other,” he said. “We all get along great. We’re all friends. We want obviously American tennis to hopefully get back to what it used to be, and hopefully get our names up there.”