Hyeon Chung and Jack Sock staged their own version of High Noon under the Ohio sun in a round-of-64 tie at the Western & Southern Open. I’m not sure the two players in their 20s were perfect stand-ins for Gary Cooper and Lon Chaney, Jr., and truth be told, there was a lot more tension in Fred Zinneman’s classic 1952 film (and more cultural resonance) than Tuesday’s encounter.
Both men came to Cincinnati looking to reset their 2018 seasons. Sock was one of the eight players at the 2017 London ATP Finals after his improbable win in the Paris Masters 1000 last November, but he was 5-14 on the year coming in, and 3-5 at the Masters level. Chung started the season brightly in Melbourne, but he has been dogged by injury since spring and pulled out of Toronto last week citing back problems.
Brad Gilbert highlighted Chung’s serve as a liability before his semifinal with Roger Federer at the Australian Open, and from the sidelines you can see a stiff motion with limited leg drive or use of the hips. (Dave, my tennis partner who saw my serves on Sunday, nearly died laughing when I pointed this out.) Chung’s forehand was also firing blanks in set one, sailing feet beyond the baseline on many occasions. A desultory set, from the Korean’s perspective, ended with a limp attempted tweener.
The match seemed to turn in the fourth game of set two: Sock, facing break point, came in behind a second serve and watched a cross-court backhand pass sail past him. Both players sat down, which caused me to do a double take looking at the scoreboard. The mystery ended when a trainer and doctor came out to look at Sock’s hips and lower back. (On the TennisTV replay, you can hear Sock tell the trainer that he had some back spasms Monday.)
After treatment Sock continued play, but he didn’t run for much the rest of the set. He took his cap off as he walked slowly to the chair on Chung’s final winner, and I thought he might be ready to raise the white flag. But instead he rummaged for a while in his kit bag, and walked off court carrying a change of shoes.
Had this been scripted by Hollywood, the wounded hero would have staged a miraculous recovery (perhaps after taking one or two more bullets) and gained the acclaim of the townspeople.
It wasn’t to be. The first four games of set three went with serve, then Chung broke through with a return that Sock apparently couldn’t move to. There were no dramatic twists at the end, which was fitting for a match which had featured hardly any drama.
I’m a strong believer in #NoAsterisks: If your opponent finishes the match upright, he was hoping to get the win. Chung didn’t have his best stuff Tuesday, but it was enough. Whether it will be against his next opponent, World No. 3 Juan Martin Del Potro, is another question.