He is currently ranked as the second-best men’s singles player in the nation, a man who came into college as the nation’s No. 1 recruit. He has represented his country in tournaments the world round and has won every one of the 11 matches he played in the NCAA tournament.
After breaking his right wrist in a match, Marcos Giron missed the first half of his freshman year. Giron spent countless hours rehabbing but struggled with the mental aspect of the game after returning from the injury.
For a junior whose career is now at a full sprint, Marcos Giron had some forgettable baby steps.
Two weeks into Giron’s freshman year at UCLA, he entered the main draw at the 2011 ITA All-American Championships in Tulsa, Okla. Playing in the second round of the main draw, Giron took his opponent deep into the third set.
The match was the freshman’s second of the day, and he was gassed. But as the sun set and the lights flickered on, Giron lined up to serve for the match at 6-5, 40-30. One more point would secure the win.
Giron served and sprinted to the net, sensing an imminent cramp in his legs as his opponent hit a lob shot high above Giron’s head.
“At that moment, I knew if I jumped I was going to cramp,” he said. “But if I made (the shot) I would win the match.”
Giron jumped, and things fell apart. Pain, waves of it, coursed through his legs. As he came down, his legs gave out beneath him, and he landed awkwardly on his right arm. Giron curled into the fetal position, cramping everywhere he moved.
When he was finally able to stand, bad turned to worse. Not only had he lost the point, but he had also been charged a point penalty for wasting time. As he picked up his racket, something felt wrong about his wrist. After a few swings, he was forced to retire, unable to continue playing through the pain.
Two days later, his worst fears were confirmed: His right wrist had broken during the fall, and he would be sidelined for several months.
The news floored Giron.
“It was such a bummer,” Giron said. “There went the first half of my freshman year.”
Giron’s parents, too, could feel how tough the injury was for their son.
“The injury was a big letdown because Marcos had been playing really well before it,” said his father, Andres Giron. “But once he realized that there was nothing he could do about it, he focused on working on the areas of his game that he could improve.”
Giron – a right-handed player – would show up to every practice and hit with his left hand, trying to maintain his eyes’ instinctual tracking of the ball. He lifted as much as he could, running and training to keep his body in shape.
“Every percentage point he could gain by doing something while recovering, he tried to gain,” said coach Billy Martin.
Yet when you are a right-handed tennis player and you break your right wrist, there is only so much you can do to maintain your form when rehabbing. And so it went for Giron, who faced his real challenge when he returned to the court in January.
In his first match back, Giron took on USC’s Eric Johnson – a player he had never lost to in his career – at the 2012 Sherwood Collegiate Cup. Given that the freshman’s long layoff and injury were such a vital component, Martin didn’t expect him to play too well, and his fears were confirmed. For the first time, Giron lost to Johnson. He was crushed.
“(Johnson) is one of those guys who I didn’t think I’d lose to before, so it was definitely a shock to me,” Giron said. “When you get hurt, you put extra pressure on yourself to play well, start second-guessing yourself if you’re making mistakes. You’re not making the right shots at the right time, and it takes time before you get that confidence about what you need to do out there.”
Giron has become a “smarter player” since his injury and has used that better understanding of the game to become the second-ranked player in men’s collegiate tennis.
(Katie Meyers/Daily Bruin senior staff)
That journey took a while for Giron. In his first few matches, his body was not up to the task, lacking the instincts and natural reaction required to effectively hit decisive shots. Used to playing year-round, Giron faced significant difficulty coping with his layoff.
“(The recovery) process was really difficult for him,” Andres Giron said. “Physically, he recovered rather quickly, but it took him a while – almost a year – to recover mentally and emotionally.”
Paralleling his physical recovery was Giron’s maturation on the court. Giron said he became a “smarter player” that was more conscious on the court, one who better understood how to isolate his opponents’ weaknesses.
The Bruins’ No. 2 men’s singles player can wear down big servers and hold his own against deceptive players, as he showed this year by winning against teammate Clay Thompson and USC’s Ray Sarmiento, nationally ranked No. 1 and No. 9 respectively. He can hold his own under high pressure, as he did last year when he won a decisive match in the furiously windy NCAA semifinal against then-No. 5 Ohio State. And he can win consistently – he has lost only four times in the 37 matches he has played this season.
There’s a reason why he has played at the No. 1 spot 12 times this year, just one time less than he has played at No. 2. It may have taken Giron a year to get his legs under him after his injury, but he has not taken a step back since.