It's only fitting that the all-Nebraska U.S. Open tennis match between 18-year-old Lincoln native Jack Sock and Omaha native Andy Roddick would be played in prime time on one of tennis' biggest stages — Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Long before meeting Friday night in the second round of the Open, the two first met in college football's equivalent — Memorial Stadium — during the 2002 Nebraska-Colorado game. Sock was 10 at the time, and had caught wind that Roddick would be coming to Lincoln to take in his one Husker football game of the season.
Sock was constantly calling former Nebraska men's tennis assistant coach Rick Stempson leading up to the game, hoping to meet one of his tennis idols and get a picture with him. Stempson, who had worked with Sock during the summer at Hillcrest Country Club, and NU men's head coach Kerry McDermott were acting as hosts for the up-and-coming 20-year-old tennis star.
Stempson, McDermott and Roddick went to the sidelines to watch the second half, and halfway through the third quarter, Stempson heard a young voice calling his name from behind. It was Sock, who had made his way through the student section to field level.
Roddick, who moved to Austin, Texas, at the age of 4, was more than happy to meet the young fan and get his picture taken with him. Afterward, Stempson told Roddick that Sock was someone to keep an eye on, that he could be an unbelievable player.
Roddick laughed and said, "he'll probably kick my (butt) someday.''
Sock and Roddick crossed paths again in 2007 when Roddick played an exhibition with Sam Querrey at what was then Qwest Center Omaha. There, Sock persuaded Roddick to let him play a few points against Querrey.
"Andy had no idea who I was,'' said Sock, who by that time was training full-time at the Mike Wolf Tennis Academy in Overland Park, Kan.
As Sock ascended through the junior ranks, Roddick did get to know him. Sock went to Boca Raton, Fla., about a year-and-a-half ago and went through some practice sessions with Roddick, valuable time that taught him about effort and intensity.
In the eyes of Sock, Roddick has gone from idol to mentor and now to opponent. And obviously, Roddick views Sock as a foe as well, someone who's a lot like himself.
"He's from Nebraska. Sounds a little like an 18-year-old I knew once upon a time," Roddick said jokingly after his first-round win over Michael Russell on Wednesday night.
In just his third Grand Slam match ever, Sock will be facing a foe that has a 19-7 record on the Arthur Ashe court and 122-40 mark overall in majors. Roddick, a former No. 1 player, also is the last American man to win the U.S. Open, doing it in 2003.
When asked if he would be nervous for his first match in Arthur Ashe, Sock responded, "Probably not."
All I'm worried about is playing solid tennis, making a high percentage of first serves and dictating points when I can,'' he said.