In a clash between two players in desperate need of some positive results, world #20 Jack Sock and Australian Open semifinalist Hyeon Chung are set to meet in the first round of the Cincinnati Masters. Sock had a career-best season last year which included qualification for the ATP Finals, but has endured a miserable 2018, claiming just five wins. Things have been better for Chung, but injury halted his momentum and he is yet to regain it. Who will come out on top?
Sock and Chung have never met on Tour. In terms of experience Sock has the edge, with four titles to Chung's none, and 158 wins to the Korean's 73. But neither has yet enjoyed much success at the Cincinnati Masters. Sock has lost in the first round on three out of his four trips to Ohio. Chung has played in Cincinnati once, and was bounced out of the first round in last year's tournament. But this year, at least one will survive the round of 64.
Last time out
To say Sock has had a nightmarish season this year would be putting it kindly. He comes into the tournament having lost seven straight matches and even on his favoured hard courts he has won just three of his last six matches. He has essentially fallen off a cliff in terms of consistency. He looked well below the high standard he set last year in first round losses at Wimbledon where Matteo Berrettini beat him in five and in Toronto where he fell to Daniil Medvedev in three.
Chung has also struggled to find his form of late. After a strong start to the season, including that semifinal appearance at the Australian Open, he has struggled due to injuries. An ankle injury forced him out of the French Open and Wimbledon, which was no doubt supremely frustrating after his great run in Melbourne. He returned to action in Washington where he beat Marcos Baghdatis before losing to eventual finalist Alex De Minaur. He then withdrew from Toronto.
How do they match up?
Though both players have struggled with consistency that is essentially where the comparisons end. Central to Sock's successes throughout his career has been the combination of his powerful serve and forehand. Sock will need them to be firing to enable him to bully Chung in this match and the fast hard courts at the Lindner Family Tennis Center should help him to do that. He would also do well to approach the net when he can, with Sock's volleying skills amongst the best on Tour.
But there are few players who move better than Chung. His defensive skills are of the first order, with his ability to maintain his balance and use the ball at the end of his range, even when under pressure, reminiscent of Novak Djokovic. It will serve Chung well to target Sock's backhand, which is a glaring weakness in the American's game. But, with Sock likely to camp in his backhand corner to defend against just that, exploiting the open court with his backhand down the line will be rewarded.
Both players come in to this match struggling with their form, but Socks struggles have lasted all year long while Chung is returning from injury and trying to find his rhythm. The American crowd will almost certainly do their best to fire Sock up in this one and that should help him in the vital moments. But ultimately, Chung will simply have too much, particularly defensively, and expect the Korean to get the win in three sets.