When Jack Sock walked onto the court for his doubles match with Virginia senior Jarmere Jenkins on Sunday at the Boars Head Sports Club wearing a UVa shirt, someone from the crowd yelled “Let’s go Hoos!”
Oh, what might have been.
Sock and Jenkins lost in the finals of the Charlottesville Men’s Pro Challenger to Australians John Patrick-Smith and John Peers, 7-5, 6-1. In the singles final, Northern Virginia native Denis Kudla defeated Alex Kuznetsov, 6-0, 6-3.
It was just two years ago that Sock, one of the most dominant players in junior tennis history, chose to turn pro instead of playing at Virginia or for his hometown Nebraska.
“Virginia was one of my top choices for sure, and I think I would have really enjoyed it,” Sock said. “But I really like the life that I have on the pro tour. I’m enjoying it so far and hopefully for years to come.”
Against Patrick-Smith and Peers, neither Sock nor Jenkins was at his best. The duo got off to a great start, breaking Patrick-Smith’s serve in the first game. However, just three games later Jenkins was broken.
The match stayed on serve until the 11th game, when, trailing 6-5, Jenkins was broken again, with a double fault really costing him.
The second set was all Patrick-Smith and Peers. The Aussies quickly broke Sock in the second game when Peers hit a winner off Sock’s serve.
In the fourth game, the duo put the match away with another break. The key points were a poorly executed overhead by Sock that sailed 10 feet over the baseline and another double fault by Jenkins.
“Those guys returned well,” said Jenkins, alluding to Patrick-Smith and Peers. “I felt like I could have served better, but credit to those guys. They were really putting pressure on my returns.”
Jenkins and Sock had upset Treat Huey and Bobby Reynolds on Friday, then beat Alex Kuznetsov and Mischa Zverev on Saturday. For Jenkins, the week was worth its weight in gold heading into this week’s ITA Nationals in Flushing, N.Y.
“I’m not bummed at all,” Jenkins said. “Jack and I had a really good tournament and beat some really good players. For us not playing together that much, I think we really did a good job together.”
Added Sock: “We’ve been friends for a long time and have known each other for a long time, so it’s pretty easy to play together. Maybe after he’s done with school here, he can come on tour and play some more with me.”
Virginia tennis coach Brian Boland hopes Jenkins will use the Challenger as a springboard for the Nationals, where he will be playing both singles and doubles.
“He was able to play a high level of competition for over a week, and I think that’s invaluable experience to play against some of the best players in the world and realize that you measure up incredibly well,” Boland said. “For Jarmere, hopefully this transfers into [this] week. He knows he can compete with the best.”
The 20-year-old Sock, meanwhile, appears completely recovered from an abdominal injury that had sidelined him for a few months. Currently ranked No. 166 in singles, he’s considered one of America’s brightest prospects.
In high school, Sock went 80-0 and won four state championships, then won the USTA Boys’ 18 Nationals, as well as the junior U.S. Open.
In August, the 6-foot-1, 180-pounder made it to the third round of the U.S. Open, losing a tough four-setter that went to a tiebreak in three of the sets. The summer before, he won the tournament’s mixed double title with Melanie Oudin.
Boland smiled when asked if he’s ever asked himself “What if?”
“I would have liked to have Jack Sock competing for us in a UVa uniform,” Boland said. “Unfortunately, he never ended up here, but I’m happy for him because he’s having a lot of success on the pro tour.
“I know he seriously considered coming to school here, but at the same time I’m excited for his future.”
Sock, who will play an event in Knoxville this week, says his stop in Charlottesville was productive.
“Obviously we wish we could have won today,” he said. “You always want to win, but for me it was an all-right week. I had a pretty good win [in singles] over Jesse [Levine].
“Everything is headed in the right direction for me right now. I’m playing pretty well and doing the things I want to do. I’m feeling good about where I am right now.”