Which player will emerge from the “Group of Death,” the daunting lower half of the Men’s Main Draw packed with names like Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer?

Try Jack Sock. He’s the top ranked American on the ATP Tour and, with his defeat of Kei Nishikori in the quarterfinals on Friday, finds himself between Roger Federer and the finals of BNP Paribas’ Indian Wells Masters. Enjoying one of the finest years of his career, Sock has already garnered two tournament victories in 2017 – Delray Beach and Auckland – and ranks a career high #18 worldwide (and, impressively, #17 in doubles). He’s traveled a long, arduous road in the desert of palms over the past two weeks, going the distance with three sets in all four of his Indian Wells matches.

Opposite Henri Laaksonen in Round 2, Sock won the first set before suffering a “bagel” in the second, only to recover and secure the three-set win. In a third frame against Grigor Dimitrov, Sock saved four match points in a thrilling final set. Next, Sock was pushed to the limit by Malek Jaziri after dropping the opener, 4-6, 7-6, 7-5.

Nishikori has quietly rolled through Indian Wells, poised to challenge Federer in the semis on Saturday, but it was Sock who exceled in yet another third and deciding set, overwhelming the 4th seeded Japanese star, 6-3, 2-6, 6-2. Federer, on the other hand, benefitted from a walkover when Nick Kyrgios succumbed to illness. The Swiss legend has beaten Sock in two career matches – hardly a litmus test – but while Federer is 8-1 on the year so far, Sock is on par at 11-2 in match play, with two titles to Federer’s single trophy.

Clearly the favorite is Federer, but crowd admiration for the perennial “G.O.A.T.” may well be tempered by the enthusiasm of Sock’s home crowd, waving Old Glory and hoping that American tennis takes a huge step forward – or at least, one pretty big step to the finals on Sunday.

AROUND THE GROUNDS at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden

Rajeev Ram (USA) will play in the Men’s Doubles Final on Saturday, having edged countryman Sam Querrey (Santa Monica) in the semifinals. Bethanie Mattek-Sands (USA), half of the top ranked Women’s Doubles tandem, was ousted in the semis by Yung Jan Chan and former Grand Slam champion Martina Hingis… BNP Paribas announced its second annual scholarship recipients, Alyssa Alvarez and Diego Ceja, both students at Indio (CA) High School, each receiving  a $15,000 college grant. “BNP Paribas is thrilled to present these two outstanding students with these scholarships,” said Jean-Yves Fillion, CEO of BNP Paribas USA and Head of Americas CIB. “Alyssa and Diego have both shown exceptional commitment to the sport of tennis and are both very dedicated students.”

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