Born in L.A., Ernesto Escobedo grew up watching matches at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. He remembers sidling up to the Bryan Bros. on the practice courts, a wide-eyed eight-year-old hoping to catch a glimpse of the pros.
“A young kid with so many dreams, with curly hair, with a visor, walking the grounds,” recalled Escobedo, now 21. “I have always dreamed about playing here, a match on center court.”
That dream became a reality on Friday, as the emerging star faced fellow American Frances Tiafoe, ranked No. 64, in Stadium 1. He sure made the most of the opportunity, downing his 20-year-old #NextGen mate, 7-5, 6-3, in one hour, 20 minutes.
“My family sacrificed so much for me, especially my dad,” said Escobedo, ranked No. 117 and part of an impressive crop of young twentysomething men emerging in the U.S. “I mean, he would take off time from work just to be with me on the court, so I’m really grateful for that. Playing here, I feel like I’m doing him a favor, as well, because he gave me so much. And it’s time for me to pay him back.”
Escobedo didn’t take the country club route. His like-named father, a UPS driver, initially wanted his son to avoid the sport. But when he did take it up on a regular basis, his annual tennis budget was limited to $5,000.
“I never felt like the family was poor,” reflected Escobedo, who moves on to face Spaniard Feliciano Lopez in the second round. “I felt like we had everything. Money doesn’t matter for me. If we have one dollar or a million, I’m still going to have a smile on my face, and my dad, as well.”
Escobedo made headlines only weeks ago when he upset compatriot Jack Sock en route to the Round of 16 in Acapulco, the first Top-10 win of his career. He plays a composed game on court, with the kind of firepower that could take him far in this sport. But he isn’t rushing things.
“There are so many guys under 21 in the Top 100, but I’m not worried about that. I’m just focused on myself,” he said. “If I do it in two years, three years, or tomorrow, it’s just a journey of getting there. I feel like it’s the most important part for me. I have grown so much as a player. I feel like I still have so much to improve.”