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Though he was born in Los Angeles, 20-year-old rising American Ernesto Escobedo traces his family roots—and love for tennis—to a backyard court in Mexico.

By Jamie Lisanti
May 02, 2017

A version of this story appears in the May 1, 2017 issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. To subscribe, click here.

Though he was born in Los Angeles, Ernesto Escobedo traces his love for tennis to a handcrafted backyard court in the rural Mexican town of Jerez (pop. 57,610), where his grandfather taught his father to play. "It's just been in my blood since then," says Escobedo, 20, whose 135-mph serve and aggressive play have helped him climb more than 65 ranking spots since January, to No. 73. After honing his game on L.A.'s public courts, the 6'1", 180-pound Escobedo turned down a full scholarship at USC to go pro three years ago. Now he's one of the wave of rising American stars.

On reaching his first ATP semifinal in Houston on April 15

It’s a funny story. Two weeks [before] I wasn’t supposed to play that tournament. I wasn't entered to play it. I took a wild card at the last minute. I felt really confident on the clay even before the tournament. I liked my chances in Houston. I feel like clay could be one of my best surfaces just because of the fact that I play super aggressive, and I play with spin. I had a good draw, and I was having so much fun. I have family in Houston, so it almost felt like playing at home.

Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On President Donald Trump

I don't agree with him at all, but at the same time I accept that he is the President, so I want to give him a chance. It's sad what he thinks about Mexicans, Latinos and immigrants, because so many of the people in this country are immigrants. Even my parents. They started from nothing and have built a great life. My dad was in the fields at 20 years old picking strawberries. To look at him now [he's a driver for UPS] is very inspiring.

On inspiring Latinos

I love playing in Mexico. I have a huge fan base there. I want to inspire Latinos to play more tennis because in Mexico, the people who play tennis play at the country club, and it's super expensive. I want to start a free academy for kids, because tennis could be a big sport there.

On family

Family is very important. I’m very close to them. When I'm home, I try to be around my parents [Ernesto and Cristina] as much I can. My dad's whole side plays tennis—he's one of 10 siblings. They all support me. If I'm ever playing close to them, they will go see me.

My grandpa started playing tennis when he was 40 years old—very, very late. And that’s when my dad started to play, when he was like 12 years old. And its just been in the blood since then. My whole family plays. When I started playing when I was four or five years old. I loved it from the first second. My dad made tennis seem very fun.

On what he loves about Mexico

I love going back to Jerez because my uncle trains horses. I go with him to the ranch and ride for the whole day. It's a great place to just relax and forget about tennis. And the food is unbelievable. We never go out because everything is homemade: menudo [traditional Mexican stew made with beef stomach], tortas, tacos. L.A. is great with Mexican food, but its nothing like home.

On training with Roger Federer in Dubai

I spent three weeks with him in November. It was a great start to my offseason. Just being around a guy like that gave me so much inspiration to do better in tennis, to work harder. He taught me that tennis is more than just a sport—it’s life. It teaches you so many things. I’m enjoying tennis much more now ever since I was with him.

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On the Next-Gen ATP Finals in Milan

It’s a great event. I hear about it so much during the tournaments. It’s great for us because I feel like it’s important to have a young rising star coming up and this makes it much more exciting. And then you see all your friends there that are you age doing well. All of us are pushing each other to do better and better. And it’s good for the sport, having young guys who could play competing against each other.

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