Escobedo: I Knew I Was Going To Have A Breakthrough
All roads to the top are created differently. Few players take a linear path up the ATP Rankings, as they plot their ascent. Injuries, a loss of confidence and the struggle to maintain that winning formula all play a significant role. For Ernesto Escobedo, it was a long and trying journey, but one that the American had to endure to emerge with a trophy once again.
On Sunday, as he watched his opponent's return sail long, Escobedo bent over and exhaled. A quick glance to his coach Jan-Michael Gambill confirmed it. After three years, he was a Challenger champion once again. While it was a muted celebration for the American, the victory certainly meant more than any other.
Escobedo reeled off six wins in seven days to lift the trophy at the Challenger Banque Nationale de Granby, culminating in a 7-6(5), 6-4 win over Yasutaka Uchiyama on Sunday. A native of Los Angeles, he initially broke through with a pair of Challenger titles in Lexington and Monterrey in 2016, cracking the Top 100 at No. 67. He was just 20 years old at the time and Escobedo is the first to admit that he wasn't ready for the sudden surge of success.
Now, three years later, with new coach and former Top 20 star Gambill at the helm, he is thriving with a renewed mentality and approach. Most importantly, the 23-year-old they call 'Neto' is having fun again on the court.
He spoke to ATPChallengerTour.com following his victory in Granby...
After all these years, how did it feel to get that winning feeling back and lift the trophy?
I wasn't thinking it was three years. I knew it was a long time since I won a Challenger, but at the same time I wanted to stay in the moment and enjoy the tournament. I was just having a good time out there. I knew for the past three months that I've been practising really hard, so it was just me being patient and waiting for the right time.
You've been making steady progress this year. Did you feel this moment was coming?
The last three tournaments I played, I did pretty well. They were really close matches I lost, so I wasn't dwelling on them. I knew that I was playing well. I just told myself to stay patient and it's going to happen. I knew that one of these weeks I was going to have a big breakthrough and it was this week in Granby.
Talk about the week in Granby. What was the key to put it all together?
When you have six matches in seven days, it doesn't matter if it's the Challenger Tour or the ATP Tour. It's so tough. And it was hot and humid conditions out there. But at the same time I knew that I'm super fit, so there wasn't an issue there. I just felt like I had to compete 100 per cent every point, no matter the situation.
How has Jan-Michael Gambill made a difference with your game and your mental approach?
I didn't play much during the clay and grass seasons. I was just training hard and practising a lot back home with my coach. He was really tough with me, just training morning til night on and off the court. There was a lot of mental training as well. By this week, I felt like I was in a really good position to win.
How did the partnership come about and what's the biggest lesson you've learned from him?
We teamed up right after Monterrey, so around late March. He's helped me so much, but the biggest thing is to just keep things simple. I'm a very simple guy. He's kept things very basic and in that way, it was very easy for me to understand him and respond to his way of coaching. I just trust him a lot. He's a great coach and has been up there in the Top 20, so he knows his stuff.
What was the toughest part of your struggles over the past few years? Was there ever a moment when you didn't think you'd get back here?
There were more downs than ups, for sure. I always knew that I had the game to win and be at the top, but I didn't have the right team around me. It was getting to the point where it felt like a 9-5 job and it wasn't something that I really enjoyed. Ever since Jan has been with me, it's been great. It's been fun again and enjoyable. I feel like I'm back there again. I'm still so far away with my ranking, but my game is definitely there.
Are you setting any goals for yourself or just taking it one step at a time?
One step at a time. I'm going day-by-day pretty much. I'm playing Aptos next, then Vancouver. I'm not looking too far ahead.
And your win in Granby put you into US Open qualifying. Were you aware going into the final?
I had no idea! And I'm leading the US Open wild card challenge. I had no idea of that either. Still two more weeks to go with that, but it feels good. I was hoping to at least get into qualies, so I'm pretty pumped.