Dark day at Wimbledon for Jack Sock vs. Sam Groth and Aussie 'Fanatics'

On a startlingly bright and sunny day Tuesday at the usual overcast and gloomy Wimbledon tennis tournament, the United States' second-best men's player got it socked to him.

It was nowhere near as pretty as the weather.

Jack tried to be nimble, tried to be quick, but struggled so much he couldn't jump over the candlestick, much less the tennis net.

And so, when the match ended, on this rare hot day in England, Sam Groth had become another cooler for U.S. men's tennis. Groth, former Australian Rules football player now returned to tennis, ousted Jack Sock, one of only two U.S. seeded men in this Wimbledon draw.

The score was 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.

For Sock, it was 2 hours 12 minutes of agony, and not just because Groth is 6 feet 4 and 215 pounds, looks like a mountain man without a beard, or like an NFL linebacker, and serves like Ivo Karlovic with muscles.

The match was out on Court 16, sort of in the middle of the never-ending swarm of spectators here. It is surrounded by three rows of bleachers of constantly changing and squirming people and it is hard to tell whether the score being called is for this match or the one next door. That can be annoying for the players.

The court has no Hawk-Eye line-calling monitor, which also can be annoying to players who are used to it.

It also has no serving speed gun, which was especially annoying to spectators of this match, because both players are big bombers. Groth holds a record for fastest serve. He cranked one 163 mph in 2012. Sock is in the top 20 with his 141 mph, also in 2012.

No Hawk-Eye on most courts. No speed gun on most courts. Clearly, this is only Wimbledon, not Indian Wells. Maybe it is a money issue and the host All England Club could work out a loan from Larry Ellison.

But the real annoyance, for Sock, seemed to be a little gathering of yellow-shirted Aussie fans ("Fanatics"), who got under his skin early and seemed to stay there. They are everywhere an Aussie plays here. They sing and chant and cheer every move of their player. Opponents can either bristle or shrug it off.

Sock immediately bristled.

As soon as Groth got to 40-love on his serve for the first time, the Fanatics broke into song: "Baby don't hurt me, don't hurt me, don't hurt me no more."

He boomed a forehand past Sock and the Fanatics boomed: "That's the way I like it, I like it, I like it."

He cranked an ace past Sock and the Fanatics cranked out their vocal: "We love you, Groffie, we love you so. We love you, Groffie, we love you so."

In the row behind the Fanatics, an Australian tennis coach listened and watched with amusement and made a prediction.

"They'll get to Sock by the end of the first set," he said.

He was six games off. In the third game, after several angry glances in the direction of the Fanatics, Sock got a close line call and snarled at them, just 10 feet away in a cozy little corner of Court 16, "Wanna cheer now for that call?"

But the damage was done. Sock's body language slipped in direct proportion to the Fanatics' increasing volume. He slipped several times, once hurting his knee and another time hurting the middle finger on his left hand so badly that he called a medical timeout and took an injection that, judging by his grimaces, appeared to be quite painful.

But it was too late. By then, no amount of medicine could beat Groth and the Fanatics. Late in the match, Sock paid his final respects by slapping a tennis ball across the court in the direction of the Fanatics. It hit the fence in front of them, but he was given a warning by the chair umpire.

Sock hit out on match point, coldly shook Groth's hand at the net and disappeared into the crowd.

Groth swiveled to all sides to acknowledge the crowd, then marched to the Fanatics and shook the group leader's hand. He had out-aced Sock, 16-4, and had served so well that Sock managed to win only 9% of the points against Groth's first serve. Now, he needed to thank his supporters.

"I've known most of those people for years," Groth said. "They come to lots of tournaments and they back you. I don't think they really get after the other player. They don't make it personal. They just support us."

If it wasn't personal, it was serious for Sock. He had shared last year's Wimbledon doubles title with Canadian Vasek Pospisil, beating none other than the Bryan twins in the final. Match point was Sock hitting one of his wristy forehands up the middle between Mike and Bob so hard that it likely left a dent in the back wall.

That remains a career high point, as was being one of two American men to be seeded here at Wimbledon. John Isner is the 17th seed and Sock was the 31st.

Seven U.S. men were in the 128-player draw, fewest since 1947, and now only four are left — Isner, Sam Querrey, Steve Johnson and Denis Kudla. Ousted are Donald Young, Tim Smyczek and Sock.

Sock said nothing after his loss, or at least nothing to the media. Interview requests here are made in writing. Sock had requests from the New York Times and Los Angeles Times.

Apparently, he is saving himself for larger-circulation papers.


Twitter: @DwyreLATimes

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