When Ernesto Escobedo steps onto the blue hard courts of the United States Tennis Center for his first round match at the 2016 US Open in Flushing Meadows, New York Monday, it will be yet another important step in realizing a dream that started with his mom and dad and a large brick wall 16 years ago in Los Angeles, California. The US Open provides an important opportunity for Escobedo as he seeks to establish himself among the game’s elite on the ATP Tour. And if the summer is any indication, the 20-year-old could be ready for a major breakthrough at America’s most important tournament.
Escobedo was born into a tennis family. His father was a talented player who tried to make it on the pro tour. Both of Escobedo’s older sisters played the game. And although it was his father who had a taste of the tour lifestyle and tennis success, it was his mother who took the young Escobedo by the hand and introduced him to the game. “Right beside my house there was an elementary school with a big tall wall in the parking lot. So my mom and i would go to play there during the day when both of my sisters were in school,” Escobedo explained. Although his father had reached professional status, and both of his sisters played recreationally, the elder Escobedo was hesitant at exposing his young son to the sport. “My dad didn’t want me to play tennis because he tried to play and went through a lot. It was very tough to earn money and have a successful career. His career was really short. Once my dad saw me pick up the racket, it was hard for him to hold back and he started to teach me.”
Escobedo’s game is one built around a sneakily big serve for his 6’1″ frame and all court groundstrokes that see him continually trying to move into the court to rob his opponents of time. Escobedo has won 81% of his first serve points this year, and has fended off 67% of the break point chances his opponents have held on him. Although Escobedo’s groundstrokes are compact, they are hard and land deep in the court; Escobedo has great timing on each side–affording him the ability to change direction of the ball at times in a point where other players can’t. He has spent his time leading into the US Open training particularly hard. “I’ve been working super hard for the past two weeks because I really want to peak at the Open. It’s a great opportunity for me to play the Open this year.” He went on to clarify, saying, “I didn’t get to play it [US Open] last year and I was really angry with myself. I told myself that ‘I’m going to work super hard that I won’t miss the Open another time’…I’ve been improving a lot on my footwork because that is sometime that I lack in.”
As Escobedo continues to work on his movement and game , he enters the 2016 Open coming off his best season of his emerging career. Beginning the year at #393 in the world, Escobedo has climbed to #201 in the world. The season has seen him qualify for 3 ATP Main Draw matches, including making the third round at Nottingham prior to Wimbledon. He has also had major success on the Challenger Tour, advancing through qualifying to the quarters of Maui, the finals of Sao Paolo, and winning the Lexington stop–one of the most established and prestigious American Challenger stops on tour. With the win, Escobedo earned himself a Wild Card into the main draw at the US Open. In the Lexington final he overcame the much-hyped and talented American teen Frances Tiafoe in a tight and exciting third-set tiebreak. There was much riding on the line as both were chasing a Wild Card in the USTA US Open Wild Card race. “There were a lot of things going through my mind…I knew the winner would be in first place for the US Open Wild Card Challenge; Setting that aside, I was playing another young American in the final and that means a lot. Both of us are trying to prove ourselves out there.” Escobedo used a defensive lob to draw the error from Tiafoe gaining the first mini break of thetie break and then essentially ran away with the tiebreaker from there–continually coming into the court behind deep flat forehands–placing Tiafoe in uncomfortable positions throughout the final points.
Winning the Kentucky Bank Classic was a sign that the positive changes Escobedo invested in for 2016 are paying dividends. When asked about what factors had lead to his improved play this season, Escobedo was quick to praise his coach Peter Lucassen. Prior to Escobedo hiring Lucassen in September of 2015, Escobedo described his season, stating that,”Last year was really tough because I didn’t have a coach, and I was by myself. I wasn’t really enjoying tennis that much… It wasn’t fun for me.” Escobedo believes that Lucassen’s presence and knowledge have helped to change his mindset about both his tennis game and tour life, “He taught me more than just tennis. He taught me how to enjoy the cities and tournaments. I looked at every loss as a disaster. He taught me that I have to be okay with losing almost every week. Once I was okay with that, everything started to click. I was enjoying myself more on the court and having a lot of fun. All I needed was someone great to guide me.”
He taught me that I have to be okay with losing almost every week. Once I was okay with that, everything started to click.
Escobedo hopes to carry this fresh attitude forward into a good run at the US Open and beyond. When asked about his goals for himself, Escobedo’s response showed a maturity and deep commitment to developing his game in the right way. “One of my goals for the end of the year is to finish the year injury free. I don’t like to give myself a ranking goal just because that puts pressure on me, but if I am playing the way how I am now, the ranking will take care of itself. I’m really excited to finish the second half to the year strong.”
“Finishing strong” has been a recurring theme for the Californian in 2016 as his dream of building a pro career continues to develop and grow. A dream, that was almost deferred by a father who wanted what was best for his son, will now come to fruition in the quaint bullring of Court 7 Monday as Escobedo plays the opening match of the day against Slovakian veteran Lukas Lacko–a match that Escobedo has worked hard for over the past year to play; an opportunity that he seems incredibly focused on claiming for himself in victory.