Marcos Giron of Thousand Oaks played at UCLA for three seasons and turned pro after he won the 2014 NCAA singles title. Now 25, he’s still competing in a lot of Challenger Series events and is ranked No. 217 in the world. He had to survive qualifying play to get into the main draw of the BNP Paribas Open for the first time but has made the most of his chance, pulling off a gutsy 1-6, 6-4, 6-2 upset of 23rd-seeded Alex de Minaur of Australia on Saturday. Coupled with his first-round surprise against Jeremy Chardy, Giron has won two tour-level matches in a row for the first time in his career.
Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada, 18, has streaked across the tennis skies with precocious brilliance. Given a wild-card entry at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, Auger-Aliassime added to his growing legend Saturday by taking out No. 9 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece with an aggressive and powerful 6-4, 6-2 triumph.
Giron and Auger-Aliassime have taken different paths to reach the same place — the third round here. Giron admires Auger-Aliassime’s accomplishments but knows he couldn’t have traveled the route the Montreal native has followed.
“There’s no way I could have done this when I was 18. I needed the college experience,” Giron said. “Growing up I was always the top junior in the states, but the way he’s doing it is amazing. … He’s so mature and so professional with how he goes about it and it’s impressive to see.”
The men’s tour promotes Auger-Aliassime, Tsitsipas and De Minaur as young stars it calls Next Gen, players it hopes will succeed Roger Feder, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and other 30-somethings who have dominated the rankings. Giron wasn't among the Next Gen players, but his persistence and preparation made him better than De Minaur on Saturday, somewhat to Giron’s surprise.
“He’s terrific. He’s top 30 in the world already. So he’s young but he’s already got a very good career,” Giron said. “So I was the major underdog here. I took it very seriously and I just went out there to have fun and enjoy it, but also compete hard and hopefully be able to leave with a win.”
That seemed unlikely after De Minaur steamrolled through a 21-minute first set.
“I stuck with the tactics but I finally just swung out a little bit,” Giron said. “My arm loosened up and I realized, you know, what do I have to lose? There’s nothing to lose. … He’s a top-30-in-the-world player. He’s not going to beat himself. I’m going to have to go and beat him. And I just kind of stuck to it and started trusting my shots a little more and they started falling in.”
They had some long, skillful rallies in the second and third sets under the warm sun on Court 4. Giron broke De Minaur for 2-2 in the second set, saved a break point in the next game, and cashed in his fourth break point to take a 5-3 lead. De Minaur broke for 5-4 but Giron gained another break and won the set when De Minaur hit a forehand long. While fans cheered and performed the UCLA eight clap, Giron went up a break in the second game of the third set. He couldn’t convert a break point in the sixth game but held for 5-2 and won on his first match point, when De Minaur hit a backhand long.
It was only eight years ago, Giron recalled, that he came here the first time as a fan. He remembers the skill of players who weren’t considered top level and the ferocity of Nadal’s practice forehands.
“I remember jumping up and thinking, ‘That is next level. No wonder he’s won a lot of French Opens, because he’s an absolute beast,’ ” Giron said.
That made it difficult for him to grasp that he's among the last 32 men competing here.
"Especially here in Southern California, at Indian Wells, with such support, it was truly awesome,” he said.
His college coach, Billy Martin, cheered him on via the internet.
“He was always one of the best-conditioned players we’ve had at UCLA. He had an incredible work ethic and really valued not only practicing daily, but off-court conditioning,” Martin said by phone. “And he was always so strong off the ground. His groundstroke game was very good, but I think that the things he improved upon the most when he was here at UCLA for the three years were his serve and volley game and just being able to be aggressive and not just stay in the back court, being able to take short balls and come in and be somewhat efficient up at net. He still seems to be improving at that.”
Giron will face big-serving Milos Raonic of Canada, the No. 13 seed, who headed off a possible Thousand Oaks High alumni matchup by defeating Sam Querrey 7-6 (1), 6-4.
“I’m just going to go out there and have fun and come up with a game plan and stick with it,”Giron said.