After making it all the way to the state finals in boys singles as a freshman and sophomore, Service’s Ulysses Escobar is coming into the 2023 season with a new look and a new mindset.
Although he still has a bounty of hair, the junior decided a couple months ahead of the 2023 season to trim his long luscious locks because it was time for a change. But more importantly, he believes that he has made significant improvements in his game over this past summer.
“The mentality is do everything (I) know I can in this moment to make my game as well-rounded as possible,” Escobar said. “I don’t want to make any of the silly mistakes I made before when I was younger.”
Cougars head coach Joe Schmid believes Escobar is so close to finally clearing that last hurdle to be crowned state champion because of how consistent and well-rounded he has become as a player.
“He has no real flaws in his game,” Schmid said. “It really is just getting over that last hump and hitting that few extra winners to get it through. But he’s got such a good mindset and I’ve got to keep bringing that killer instinct out of him. I’m confident that he’s gonna come in first this year.”
While his coach doesn’t see any weaknesses in his game, Escobar still believes he can be better when it comes to his second serve.
“Now I can confidently say that it’s a lot more consistent now and it definitely is not an opening (for opponents) anymore like it used to be,” he said. “Also my backhand cross-court is something that I very confidently bring to the edge of the court. Even if I’m in a bad position, I’m sure I can bring the game back and neutralize the point and take the offensive.”
As a sophomore, he wasn’t able to avenge his state finals defeat from his freshman year because 2021 boys singles champion Charlie Rush graduated that following spring.
This year he’ll have the opportunity to exact some revenge against reigning boys singles champion Aaron Griffin of South, who is a senior this year.
“That’s something I’m really looking forward to,” Escobar said. “I think the matchup this year with Aaron and Jude (Cebrian) from West is going to be awesome matches for everyone.”
Pending the weather, he will get his first crack at Griffin on Sept. 5 in a few weeks when South and Service varsity meet on the Cougars’ home courts.
Soft-spoken but focused off the court, Escobar maintains the same calm demeanor on the court that he has off of it.
“He is the same kid all the time,” Schmid said. “He is such a good kid, so humble, and so even-keeled. If there’s anything I want, it is to try to bring out that dog in him and try to pump him up a little bit.”
A love for tennis runs deep in the Escobar family as his father and both of his older brothers are avid players too and help him train.
“It’s nice to see Ulysses hit with someone that’s even better than him because his brothers Moses and Sergio are both so good,” Schmid said. “I take tips from those two because of how good they are.”
Swapping sand for snow
Escobar was born in Houston, Texas, and when he was 1-year-old, his family moved to Saudi Arabia because of his father’s work as a measurement engineer.
For the next 12 years, he and his family lived in a residential compound in Dhahran on the east side of the country near the Persian Gulf.
The cultural differences between where he grew up and where he lives now were very stark “in many ways” including women not being able to drive and being required to wear certain clothing. But in recent years, he said Saudi Arabia has become more progressive.
“Inside the compound where I grew up and went to school, everyone spoke English and there were students from all over the world there,” Escobar said. “That’s why English is my first language although technically, I spoke Spanish before that because both of my parents are from Colombia.”
The Escobars returned to the U.S. when he was 13 after his father got a job with ConocoPhillips Alaska and he was actually pretty excited to “swap out the sand for snow.”
His first time experiencing snow was his first time to Alaska when he visited the November before moving back to the U.S.
“I remember thinking ‘This is really cool’ and then one week later, I was ready for things to heat up a little bit more,” Escobar said.
He first started competing in tennis when he was nine years old when he decided to take part in a tournament in Saudi Arabia and his love for the game has been growing ever since.
“It went really well and I really enjoyed playing with my brothers first of all because I didn’t just want to be a spectator when they were always playing,” Escobar said. “I started playing the game and here I am.”
General outlook on the 2023 season
While West Anchorage is still expected to be the powerhouse program as the five-time defending team state champions, Schmid is excited for a lot of the new players that Service has coming out as well as several returners in the boys side. He also foresees more parity on the girls side this year in particular across the league.
“I think a lot of schools lost a lot of seniors and are working on filling out that girl side,” Schmid said. “I’m just happy we have 10-plus girls out playing.”
On the girls side, Junea’s Katie Pikul graduated after winning last year’s singles title. Runner-up Allya Pedalino of Service also graduated, leaving opportunities for singles players headed into the season.
On the doubles front, West High won both boys and girls doubles last season. The team of Eva Lief and Lillian Yang won in girls doubles and Cyrus Clendaniel and Jude Cebrian tool the title boys doubles. Lief and Yang graduated but Clendaniel and Cebrian are back this season.