INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Applause, cheers and songs of encouragement rolled down from the crowd onto Stadium 3. And there, in the middle of all of it, was a former USC Trojan at his first Indian Wells tournament, Brandon Holt.
“It’s been surreal … to be here playing in the main draw, it felt a little bit like a dream come true,” Holt said. “I almost thought it would be crazy if, one day, I could play at one of these two places [US Open and Indian Wells]. I got to play the US Open and then now to play here, I feel like I checked two boxes that I didn’t know if they would ever be checked.”
The 24-year-old from Rolling Hills, California, is taking significant steps on the professional tour. Winning seven ITF Futures in 2022, he qualified in the US Open, defeating fellow American No. 10 seed Taylor Fritz, winning his first-ever slam and ATP career match. Early this year, Holt qualified at his second Grand Slam, the Australian Open, and won his first main draw round against Aleksandar Vukic.
But the road was not always easy for Holt. COVID canceled his senior season at USC, and only a few professional tournaments took place in 2020. When everything returned to normal, Holt suffered a hand injury, requiring surgery.
“I had surgery on my hand. I actually watched this tournament two tournaments ago, and I was sitting there watching and didn’t know if I would ever even play again,” Holt said.
In tennis, a hand injury could terminate a career. But the former Trojan never gave up and sat away from the courts for an entire season before recovering from the injury.
“I came back and didn’t know what to expect. Honestly, I didn’t know if everyone had passed my level up,” Holt said. “I won the first three tournaments back, which was really crazy and a good test on my hand.”
Now ranked No. 193 and fully healthy for over a year, Holt finally had time to adjust from college tennis to the tour. Ranked as the No. 1 recruit in the nation out of Palos Verdes High School, Holt had a successful college career and reached a career-high ranking of No. 4 in the country in singles.
But the professional tour is another world. Still, there are some aspects of college competition that Holt wishes he could have back.
“College tennis has a whole different energy to it than matches. There’s a very different feeling when you’re playing because you’re playing for a team,” Holt said. “Your team that you love and are really close to, they’re running at you and jumping on you … That’s a feeling that I think is something that I’ll miss forever.”
Holt lost in the first round at Indian Wells against Aussie Thanasi Kokkinakis, 4-6, 1-6. But the BNP Paribas Open is only one tournament out of the entire season. Holt’s looking to play in Miami, then head on to the clay at the French Open, a surface he has not played on for years — since even before college.
But if there’s one thing he’s looking to accomplish, it’s getting his spot in the Top 100 before the end of the year.
“That would be great,” Holt said. “Fight on!”
And for the Trojan legacy on the ATP Tour, senior Stefan Dostanic should join his former teammate soon this summer.