There will be no secrets in Sunday’s final at the ATP Challenger Tour event in Indian Wells. Close friends and longtime foes Steve Johnson and Jack Sock are set for an all-American showdown under the desert sun, with both vying for a critical victory ahead of the BNP Paribas Open.
The championship at the Oracle Challenger Series – Indian Wells, pits the 30-year-old Johnson against the 27-year-old Sock, in what will be the 11th meeting between the pair. They will clash on Stadium 5 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, not before 12:30pm PST.
Together, the Americans tasted victory at the 2016 Rio Olympics, earning the bronze medal in men’s doubles. But they have also had their fair share of encounters on the singles court. Overall, they both own five victories in their longtime rivalry, with Johnson most recently emerging with a 6-4, 5-7, 6-1 win at the ATP Tour event in Delray Beach last month.
The Southern California native claimed two of their three ATP Challenger Tour meetings, including their most recent clash at the Sarasota Open in 2013, while Sock owns a 4-3 lead in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series at the Tour-level. The Nebraska native most notably triumphed in straight sets at Roland Garros in 2014.
Thus far, 2020 has been a resurgent season for both competitors and Sunday’s final will serve as a highly important test. After struggling with form and confidence last year, a piece of silverware will go a long way for both Johnson and Sock.
Johnson, who opened his campaign with a title at another Challenger 125 event – the Canberra International in Bendigo, Australia – also reached his first ATP Tour quarter-final of the year at the Delray Beach Open by VITACOST.com. He has been a force all week in Indian Wells, dropping just one set en route to the title match. The World No. 75 is projected to rise to at least No. 66 in the FedEx ATP Rankings on Monday.
“I always enjoy being out in the desert and competing,” said Johnson. “This is pretty much my home tournament. It’s my favourite event and doing well here is always important.
“I thought I played the break points well today. It definitely was an improvement from the last couple of days. It’s great to have another match out here in Indian Wells. We’ll go from there. Tonight I’ll have a nice dinner and focus on tomorrow’s match when it comes.”
Photos: Oracle Challenger Series/Jared Wickerham
Sock, meanwhile, is in the midst of a long journey back to the top of the men’s game, after thumb surgery and a subsequent dip in form saw him endure a combined 10-match losing streak at the Tour-level and Challenger circuit. The former World No. 8 entered Delray Beach without a ranking, but a victory over Radu Albot – his first in singles (non-Laver Cup) since 2018 – would set the stage for a big week in California.
The Nebraska native is into his first final since 2017, when he lifted his biggest trophy at the Rolex Paris Masters. He earned his way to the championship, stunning top seed Ugo Humbert in the second round, before defeating Evgeny Donskoy, Denis Kudla and 18-year-old Brandon Nakashima. In fact, four of his five wins came in deciding sets, including a comeback victory over Nakashima in Saturday’s semi-finals.
Regardless of the result, it will be a positive week for Sock, who rises nearly 400 spots in the FedEx ATP Rankings to at least World No. 384. He would ascend to the Top 300 with a win on Sunday.
Mannarino To Face Vukic In Monterrey Final
At the Challenger 100 event in Monterrey, Mexico, top seed and World No. 41 Adrian Mannarino will look to extend his winning streak in finals when he faces Aleksandar Vukic on Sunday. The title match at the Abierto GNP Seguros will feature the 13-time Challenger champ Mannarino against Australia’s Vukic, who is making his final debut.
Welcome to the big show, @Vuki_SMASH23!
Aleks Vukic reaches his first #ATPChallenger final in Monterrey, striking a career-high 3⃣1⃣ aces to edge Ernesto Escobedo 67(3) 76(5) 76(4).@Abierto_GNP pic.twitter.com/3N2shHrdZB
— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) March 8, 2020
The French veteran has not lost in a Challenger final since 2013, owning eight straight wins when competing for a trophy. His most recent Challenger title came on home soil in Quimper in 2017, before picking up his maiden ATP Tour title on the grass of ‘s-Hertogenbosch last year.
Vukic, meanwhile, is enjoying a breakthrough week on the hard courts of Monterrey, with five wins in six days. He stunned second seed Feliciano Lopez on Wednesday for first win over a Top 60 opponent, before striking a career-high 31 aces to edge Ernesto Escobedo in Saturday’s semis. The 23-year-old, a former University of Illinois standout, is projected to crack the Top 200 for the first time on Monday.
In their lone previous encounter, Mannarino registered a convincing 6-1, 6-2 victory at the ATP Challenger Tour stop in Noumea in 2017.