You just never know where the next gutty little Bruin will pop up.
One did just that Monday, on Center Court at one of the biggest tennis tournaments in the world. Chip Kelly ought to get a tape of the match and show it to his football team for inspiration before the opener.
His name is Marcos Giron, and it has appeared very little on the various lists of the new great American men’s tennis players. A few days ago, the ATP’s daily news release hyped the U.S tennis future with a headline that said: “YOUNG AMERICANS TIAFOE, FRITZ, MCDONALD OPEN CAMPAIGNS.”
Marcos Giron. Who knew?
He had gone through the qualifying tournament drill here, which is a grind in itself even before the main draw with the big paychecks begins. Once there, he beat a French veteran, Jeremy Chardy, in the first round and the 23rd-ranked player in the world, Alex De Minaur of Australia, in the second.
Those victories brought him to this cool and cloudy morning, looking across the net at Canadian Milos Raonic, the 14th-ranked player in the world. The handful of people wandering into this massive 16,100-seat stadium, with coffee and bleary eyes, couldn’t miss the immediate David and Goliath imagery.
Raonic is 6 feet 5. Giron is 5-10. Maybe.
Raonic routinely hits serves 140 miles an hour. He hit two second serves in the high 130s. In the match, he had 22 aces, Giron three.
Giron was the 2014 NCAA champion for the Bruins. His tennis highlight to date had been the wild cards the NCAA champion is given to play in the U.S. Open that year. Actually, the highlight for just getting into the main draw, as his wild card allowed, was the paycheck — around $45,000 for singles and doubles first-round appearances, win or lose. Giron lost, but cashed the checks.
More highlights were delayed when Giron needed surgery, on both hips, to shave down some painful bone deposits. The launch of the Marcos Giron ATP career was stalled on the pad.
“It just took a long time, to be honest,” he said. “Now, it’s almost been three years.” He is 25.
Monday at Indian Wells appeared to bring proof of healing. Nobody who pays any attention to tennis, including those fans dressed in blue and warming their hands on their coffee, expected what they got. Giron didn’t win but at certain moments, in certain sports, a loss can be a win. That’s what Giron’s 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 defeat was.
Even Raonic, an adult among so many children on the pro tour, recognized what Giron had done. He was asked on the court afterward whether his fans, the hundreds of Canadian Snowbirds in attendance, might have viewed this as a “nail-biter.” There was no downplaying the obvious.
“They should have been worried,” Raonic said. “I was worried.
“He deserves all the credit for the way he played. He gave a lot of Bruin fans in this stadium a lot to be proud of.”
The first solid hint that this might not be the usual early-round blood-letting of a top player over a hopeful was in Raonic’s service game at 1-2 of the first set. He won the game with first serves of 141 mph, 140, 139 and 137. But he didn’t win the game at love because, on the 141 serve, Giron not only got it back in play but also won the point. You will see that happen a handful of times the rest of the season.
They held serve until Raonic’s at 4-5. Giron got a set point and Raonic, which is his tendency, erased that with a 138-mph ace. But Giron converted the next set point when Raonic netted a backhand volley.
Even with Giron up one set, the assumption was that the young man from UCLA had given it his best shot and that form would return. And it did, barely.
Raonic broke at 3-3 and served out the second set in a game that included a 130-mph ace, a 130 service-winner and, on set point, a 137 ace.
At this point, knowledgeable fans began thinking about where to get lunch. Those who did returned to find Giron up, 4-1. Remarkably, by this time Giron had saved eight of nine break points.
Then experience clicked in. Raonic had been there so many times, on so many big stages. He is among those on the men’s tour most likely to break through for a major title soon. He is that good.
He held serve, broke back, held serve again for 4-4, then battled Giron in a long game after Giron had saved two more break points. Raonic served for the match in a style that might be expected, hitting one ace and even going for a 138 second serve.
Before Raonic gave his high praise of Giron in the courtside interview, Giron departed to a standing ovation. The crowd was now much bigger and the atmosphere had become electric.
“That was amazing,” Giron said of the ovation he received. “I realized this is not something that I have experienced. On the way out, I just wanted to make sure that I really got to see and take it in before I left.”
For his three-round journey, Giron pocketed $48,775. He also will advance from his No. 217 ranking to somewhere in the 170s. That’s still not high enough to guarantee entry into many tournaments but, as Giron said — and as thousands watching in the stadium and on TV witnessed — the progress was surprising.