Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Tennis: Finally Sock closes the deal

After losing his previous four ATP deciders the rising American shakes off losing hoodoo
A relieved Jack Sock soaks up the realisation he has clinched the men's singles final in a three-setter in Auckland yesterday. Photo / photosport.nz
A relieved Jack Sock soaks up the realisation he has clinched the men's singles final in a three-setter in Auckland yesterday. Photo / photosport.nz

Jack Sock is the latest American hero of Stanley Street - and looks headed for the top of his sport.

Following in the footsteps of John Isner, and recent female champions such as Venus Williams, Sloane Stephens and Lauren Davis, Sock outlasted Joao Sousa 6-3 5-7 6-3 yesterday to take the ASB Classic title back to the United States.

Sock had lost his previous four ATP deciders - clinching his only tournament in Houston almost two years ago - and would have been facing talk of a finals' hoodoo with another defeat.

That's why yesterday's triumph felt like a breakthrough for the American, who has dealt with plenty of hype since he turned professional in 2011.

"I'm trying to mature on and off the court, gain experience and play hard every match," said Sock. "If I can keep doing that, then results like this will keep coming."

Auckland has marked important milestones in the past. David Ferrer won his first hardcourt tournament here in 2007, and has gone on to win another 11 titles on the surface.

When Isner lifted the trophy here in 2010, it was his first triumph outside the US, and Rafa Nadal had never made the final of a non-claycourt tournament before coming to Auckland in 2004.

"Definitely, a lot," said Sock, when asked about the confidence and belief he would take from yesterday's result. "Any time you can take a title, it feels really good. I've had it once before but I've had chances, I've lost in a few finals.

"Obviously being able to go through a whole week and not be beaten is definitely a massive confidence booster."

Sock has stated that he sees himself as a top 10 player, and on the form displayed this week, that's a realistic goal.

He featured in two of the tournament's longest matches, and prevailed in a trio of three-set contests, including the final.

Sock said maturity "on and off the court" was the key change for him in the past 18 months. The 23-year-old displayed great tactical acumen yesterday, mixing up his game and out-thinking Sousa in the key moments.

He also held his nerve in his first taste of the Auckland afternoon heat after three previous night matches.

It was a thrilling match, finally a decider that lived up to the occasion. It was only the second three-set final in the past 10 years, and easily the best this decade.

Sock grabbed the initiative in the seventh game of the first set, converting his second break point. He was constantly putting pressure on Sousa's serve with heavy returns, and served out the set in 34 minutes.

The intensity lifted in the second set and at 4-5, Sock was one winner from championship point.

But the 27-year-old Sousa hung tough - winning the game with a second serve ace -- then broke the American when Sock double faulted.

"Even being up a set, it was far from over against him," said Sock. "I had a look at 4-5, 0-30 and it kinda turned the momentum around."

The pivotal moment of the match came in the eighth game of the final set. After looking so solid, Sousa got the wobbles, handing Sock a break with two unforced errors.

Sock served out the match, before collapsing to the court on his back.

"I didn't play my best game," said Sousa. "I wish I was playing like yesterday or before yesterday but this is tennis. It's not easy to play good in a final."

Sock had no time for celebrations - his flight for Melbourne left at 8pm last night -- ahead of his first round Australian Open match tomorrow.

- Herald on Sunday

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