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Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Jack Sock is digging the dirt

By Greg Garber
ESPN.com

PARIS -- Even though he says he "loves" playing on clay, until he arrived here 10 days ago, Jack Sock had an uneasy relationship with the dirt.

He lost his very first tournament on the stuff -- at the age of 9. In early April in Houston, he won his first match on clay -- then lost the next five. That last one was a straight-sets loss to Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in Bordeaux, France.

Fifteen days later, almost inexplicably, the 20-year-old from Lincoln, Neb., hammered Garcia-Lopez 6-2, 6-2, 7-5 to advance to the second round. Including qualifying, the unseeded Sock is a smoking 4-0 at Roland Garros.

His nickname in some quarters is "J-Sizzle," but we would respectfully offer a new handle that captures his unlikely success in France. He was a practice partner for the U.S. Davis Cup team in Serbia, but this was his first tournament played on red clay.

Please say hello to ... Jacques Sock. More stylish, and it rhymes better, too.

What on earth allowed him to win so copiously on a surface -- against a player, too -- that previously had been so unkind?

"The clay might be red [in Paris]," Sock said with a mischievous smile. "In the States, the clay is green.

True. The composition of the clay also varies slightly other than the color, but Americans usually do better on the green clay than the red. The opposite appears true for Sock so far.

"First time competing over here in Europe, so I was definitely excited. It was nice to have a little insight into [Garcia-Lopez's] game, and was able to play well today and get the win."

In a larger sense, Sock's success underlines the terrific effort the United States is putting out here. So far, 13 Americans have matriculated to the second round, which equals last year's total as the most in the past decade.

That total could rise because on a wet and windy day in Paris, Jamie Hampton's match against Lucie Safarova was pushed into Day 4.

Sock's match was visited by an 80-minute rain delay early in the third set. A number of matches -- including those of No. 3 seed Victoria Azarenka and No. 7 Petra Kvitova -- were eventually postponed, underlining the need for a roof. Tournament organizers had planned to provide a retractable roof over Court Philippe Chatrier by 2017, but that was recently blocked by a Parisian tribunal that sided with residents because of environmental concerns.

Now it looks as if the roof will be in place by 2018 at the earliest. A cheering thought, as rain threatens the rest of this tournament.

Garcia-Lopez came back from the delay refreshed, but Sock, hitting big serves and forehands, managed to close out the third set. Sock's postmatch interview originally was scheduled for Interview Room No. 2, but 15 minutes before it occurred, he was moved to the main room.

"He's probably the lowest-seeded American to ever get to Room No. 1," veteran tennis reporter Matt Cronin said.

And there was a healthy crowd of reporters on hand, who quizzed him on a variety of subjects. How many times has he been to the Chipotle restaurant near his hotel room? Who are his coaches? Why does he wear initials on his sneakers?

Answers: Six or seven times. The USTA's Craig Boynton and Jay Berger. And, to honor two friends who recently died in car crashes.

Sock next plays 35-year-old Tommy Haas, who is the No. 14 seed.

Tomic confrontation avoided

The good news: There will be no confrontation between John Tomic and tournament guards at the gates of Roland Garros. The bad news: That's because his son is out of the tournament.

Indeed, Bernard Tomic retired when he was trailing Victor Hanescu 7-5, 7-6 (8), 2-1. A torn leg muscle was said to be the culprit.

Earlier, French Tennis Federation officials had discussed placing a guard at the gates of the facility to prevent John Tomic from entering, pending an investigation by the ATP World Tour. Tomic allegedly head-butted Thomas Drouet, his son's hitting partner, earlier this month in Madrid.

John Tomic has pleaded not guilty to a charge of causing bodily harm to Drouet in a court case that has been postponed until October.

Stakhovsky's techno turn

Stakhovsky
Sergiy Stakhovsky has proof the line judge was wrong, and now so do his legion of Twitter followers.
Technology is increasingly inundating tennis.

Even Roger Federer, approaching the age of 32, is giving in and joining Twitter. Sergiy Stakhovsky has been at it for a while, and on Monday, he dropped the technology hammer on his chair umpire.

After arguing unsuccessfully about a disputed shot in his first-round match with Richard Gasquet, Stakhovsky set his racket down and walked to the ball mark. With his iPhone, he recorded the image and later tweeted it to his 9,177 followers:

"Well … hear what you asked for …" the Ukraine player tweeted, along with a picture of a skid mark near the line.

Stakhovsky, who would win a total of only eight games, was quickly sent home by Gasquet. Still, his whimsical snap caused a sensation in the Twitter universe.

Another French Arc of Triumph

The day after Gael Monfils energized the grounds here with a stunning defeat of No. 5 seed Tomas Berdych, Marion Bartoli authored a rousing -- but more modest -- victory over Olga Govortsova.

The Frenchwoman whiffed on her first four match points, but eventually belted an unreturnable serve, and the crowd at Court Philippe Chatrier was happy to celebrate.

The match, which began at 1:50 p.m. local time, ended at 6:22 p.m. Subtracting the lengthy rain delay, it still required 3 hours,12 minutes.

"It was a very lengthy, tricky day," Bartoli said afterward. "It shows that from a physical and mental perspective, I've got the legs for three hours. But to be honest with you, I'd prefer to have won in two sets in an hour."