(8) Jack Sock vs (28) Feliciano Lopez
This quarter of the draw opened up some with the early exit for fourth seed Alexander Zverev. Seeds Diego Schwartzman and Kyle Edmund have also been erased early, leaving Sock as the top remaining seed in the quarter. Lopez meanwhile has quietly made three quarterfinals this season, including last week in Acapulco. The 36-year-old will be seeking his first win against a top ten opponent since he beat Marin Cilic for the Queen’s Club title on grass last summer. Both players got through their openers in straight sets with Sock beating Thomas Fabbiano 6-2, 7-5. Lopez defeated Ernesto Escobedo 6-4, 6-3.
Sock looked destined to go the distance against the Italian as he trailed 2-5 in set two. The American would reel off five straight games though to close out the match in two. Sock was pretty solid overall with an 80 percent win rate on first serve and 61 percent on second. He smashed seven aces and was broken just once on two chances. The 8th seed would manage four breaks of serve against Fabbiano on eight opportunities. He did a lot of work against the Italian’s second serve, taking 62 percent of the points played.
Lopez was in a superb rhythm on serve with 16 aces for his match against Escobedo. He never faced a break point and dominated with an 87 percent win rate off his first serve. The Spaniard was also solid on second serve, taking 67 percent of the points. When Lopez is in that sort of rhythm, he’s still very capable of pulling off upsets of higher seeded players like Sock. He did enough in return to secure three breaks of serve against Escobedo on six chances.
This is match number four between these two with Sock leading 2-1. The last meeting came on clay in Houston last Spring, where Sock prevailed in three sets. Sock also won in 2016 on hard courts in Shanghai in three sets with Lopez’ lone win coming indoors in 2013 in Memphis. The Houston clash was very close with the Spaniard actually winning more points in the match (100-98) despite losing 7-6 (6), 1-6, 6-4. The match was very even with both winning right around 60 percent of their service points.
One of the biggest challenges for Lopez in the two most recent meetings has been with the amount of break points that he has allowed Sock to see. Sock has seen 21 over those last two matches, while allowing Lopez to see just 12. Interestingly though, both players secured six breaks of serve total. So Lopez has done a better job with fewer chances, but still has been unable to get a win. For Lopez, a big part of his attack will be going after Sock’s backhand both in return and off the ground. It’s by far the weaker wing for the American with his forehand still a fearsome shot when it’s in rhythm.
Let’s start on serve. When Lopez attacks the backhand return of Sock, he can definitely control the points quickly if he’s showing the power and precision he did against Escobedo. When Lopez is able to stretch Sock or body him to cause weak returns, he’s shown that he is unafraid to move in and finish at the net. The Spaniard’s doubles skills come in handy there and he’s still a good volleyer and mover at 36. I think Sock needs to be decisive and aggressive off his backhand return. He may not get the ball past Lopez when he moves in, but he can’t give him easy layups at the net.
For Sock, it is usually about rhythm and avoiding second serves. In three of his four losses this season, his second serve win rate as been 46 percent or under. Not surprisingly, he has been broken 15 times in those matches on 29 chances. In his two wins in 2018, his second serve win rate has been 60 percent or better and he was broken just once. I think where Sock struggles on serve is just sometimes seemingly not being precise enough and not always seemingly serving with a purpose. When he puts oomph on his serve and is precise, he has great depth and can push the returner back. For me, consistently doing that is what is separating him from doing greater things with his talent.
When they get into ground rallies, both have big forehands and both will do well to aim more for the backhand of the other. Both Sock and Lopez do employ a slice on their backhand and I think it’s Lopez who does a bit more with it. Sock tries to use it to run around to the forehand, but sometimes just seems to use it to use it. I’d rather see him go with the double hander with more power. If he goes with the slice without purpose too much, Lopez can move in and pound the forehand. If Sock is going to float the slice to Lopez, he needs to put enough on it to keep it on Lopez’ backhand.
This is certainly a big moment for both. For Sock, it is a chance to jump start a poor start to 2018 and it couldn’t come at a better time with a lot of points to defend in Indian Wells and Miami. The winner gets either Sam Querrey or Yuki Bhambri for a realistic shot at a Masters quarterfinal. For Sock, I think it’s about finding the serve early and avoid second serves, where Lopez can step in a be aggressive. For the Spaniard, he needs that big first serve like he had working against Escobedo. When he’s got that working, he’s free to be aggressive and will use some serve and volley to add pressure to Sock.
Based on their previous history, I think you can expect this one to be competitive unless one of them shows up flat. I think Sock’s comeback against Fabbiano after faltering early in the second set could actually be a big benefit to his confidence. He will know now that if he keeps grinding, he can persevere through adversity. Lopez for me has the game to win this match, but he’s more prone at his age to looking fantastic in one match and then going a bit flat in the next. I don’t know that he’ll fall apart here, but I think if Sock can keep his game dynamic with the forehand and first serve – this is his to win.
Prediction: Sock wins in three sets