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
I took a wild card at the last minute. I felt really confident on the clay even before the tournament. 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.
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.
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.
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.
ON TRAINING WITH ROGER FEDERER IN DUBAI
I spent three weeks with him in November. He gave me so much inspiration to work harder. He taught me that tennis is more than just a sport—it's life. I'm enjoying tennis much more now, ever since I was with him.