MONTRÉAL — Like many professional athletes on a game day, American Ernesto Escobedo had a pregame meal before his first-round singles match at the Rogers Cup on Tuesday. It was no ordinary meal, however, and Escobedo, as he began consuming his food one floor above court level, was not scheduled to play a singles match today. Nor any competitive match.
Welcome to the life of being a lucky loser at a tennis tournament!
Escobedo ended up winning his first round match against Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili 7-6 (4), 6-4, but that scoreline barely tells any of the story of his second-ever win at an ATP Tour Masters 1000 event. Just before noon, Escobedo, who lost to fellow American Reilly Opelka in the last round of qualifying two days earlier, was in the middle of eating lunch when he got a call on his cell phone from Coupe Rogers tournament referee William Coffey. Coffey notified Escobedo that No. 10 seed Tomas Berdych, Basilashvili’s originally scheduled opponent in the first round, had to withdraw from the tournament, citing a rib injury.
Because the first-round match had not taken place yet, there was still time for the tournament to select the next player in the lucky loser order to assume Berdych’s place.
Enter Escobedo. Lunch was officially over.
“I found out about five minutes before I went on court,” said Escobedo after the match. “I was having lunch and the director called me up and [told me] I got the lucky loser, and I was really shocked that I got it.”
Even with such short notice, one would think that a well-conditioned athlete like Escobedo had at least some time to get his body ready to play a high-stress match in one of the biggest stages the 21-year-old has ever performed in.
When asked how he prepared for the match, given the short notice, Escobedo answered, “Prepare? I didn’t even prepare. Like how I said, I was having lunch and I just went to the locker room, put on some clothes and I just grabbed my racquet.”
Receive a call. Put food down. Change clothes. Find racquet. Win a Masters 1000 event singles match.
Simple enough then!
Hardly. Adding to the complications of having to perform à la a Colonial-era minuteman, the match was played on Court Central, the showpiece venue of the grounds located at Jarry Park. The fans, expecting to see a former Wimbledon finalist and longtime Top 10 player in the world on one end of the court, got Escobedo instead – he of nine career ATP Tour-level match wins before Tuesday.
Maybe outside of his first-ever tour-level win, today’s triumph was probably his most memorable victory, and it clearly will be the highlight of his maiden voyage to the Quebec metropolis.
“Oh my God, it was an incredible experience,” said Escobedo. “It’s my first time here in Montréal and I’m so happy to be here.”
He was happy at the end, but, admittedly, he was nervous at the beginning of the match. Along with the proverbial butterflies, there was something else that was residing in his stomach that could have caused an issue in the match: The food he had eaten just minutes before.
“I was a little bit full,” Escobedo said wryly. “But I just told myself to go out there and enjoy it.”
Moments of levity (and possible indigestion) aside, the importance of winning today’s match cannot be understated. Escobedo is currently ranked No. 85 in the world, playing the majority of his tournaments on the Challenger Tour just to keep himself in the Top 100. That ranking also is not yet high enough to earn him direct entry into higher-end ATP Tour events, lest he receive Wild Card entries from those tournaments. Therefore, wins in prestigious events like this one are all the more cherished, as it is one step closer to moving away from playing tennis primarily to just make ends meet financially.
According to Escobedo, however, his biggest thrill today was the fact that he was actually playing today, regardless of what was at stake.
“I don’t really care about the money,” Escobedo said. “I’m just so happy to be here and having fun.”
If he was not eating, and, therefore, had his cell phone relatively close by, he might have actually missed out on the fun – as well as the $47,325 in prize money that he earned for today’s work.
“Actually, I got a missed call [while eating],” said Escobedo. “I ignored it, and then [Coffey] called me again and I picked up and he told me I got a lucky loser.”
Almost 24 hours after his whirlwind experience started today, Escobedo, now with the knowledge that he will be playing a competitive match going into tomorrow, will play his Round of 32 contest against one of his good friends on tour, Robin Haase of the Netherlands. If everything played out the way it should have to begin today, Escobedo would have been waiting on the sidelines tomorrow, on standby in case any of the other seeded players with byes had to withdraw before their first-round match. If everything played out the way it should have today, Escobedo would have been on a flight to Cincinnati on Thursday, preparing to try and qualify for that event.
But, in the world of being a lucky loser at a tournament, life is definitely not what it seems, and Escobedo summed that up with his parting words wrapping up his day of good fortune.
“Everything happens for a reason, right?”