There is something about Brandon Holt and Grand Slams that produces magic.
At last year’s US Open, the American won a wild, rain-delay-filled qualifying match to reach the main draw on his first attempt. Holt then stunned countryman Taylor Fritz in the first round. The World No. 303 was one of the stories of the majors in 2022.
Holt’s second Slam has proven just as fruitful. After trailing by a set and a break in the first round of qualifying at the Australian Open against ATP Tour titlist Radu Albot, it appeared he would be on the way home.
This was a different predicament, though. The only one with him in Melbourne is his father, Scott Holt. At Flushing Meadows, he had several family members and friends in the crowd. There were plenty of emotional moments between Holt and his family, especially his mother, WTA legend Tracy Austin.
“Just my dad. Boys’ trip! I was trying to figure out [who was going to come with me] and my dad was like, ‘I’ll come down to Australia!’ I thought about it for a few days and then was like, ‘Yeah, come down to Australia,’” Holt told ATPTour.com. “His flight was cancelled, [so] he showed up right before qualies. He showed up and I was literally down a set and a break in the first qualies match and I was like, ‘This is going to be a quick trip for him, flying here and then back home.’
“I’m happy I’ve made it this far to make his trip enjoyable and spend more time in Melbourne.”
“It’s fantastic. A bit of stress, but it’s so much fun,” Scott said. “After a lot of hard work he’s done, it’s so good to see it pay off.”
After rallying past Albot and clawing through qualifying, Holt won a delay-filled opening match in the main draw against Australian Aleksandar Vukic 6-4, 1-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 on Wednesday evening.
“I don’t know what it is [about the Grand Slams], but I was definitely thinking about that. The rain delays in the last match of the qualies at the US Open were pretty crazy, just like this. [Here] we stopped at 15/0, after one point. I won the point so I figured if I let this lead go, I really messed up there!” Holt joked. “It was weird, the rain and then a lot of waiting today. I warmed up at 10 a.m. but didn’t go on until late in the afternoon. It was fun.
“Just like the US Open, I played on Grandstand against Taylor [Fritz] and then [here I] played against Vukic, a great player in front of a loud Australian crowd.”
Although Holt was not the home favourite this time around, he embraced the moment and that paid dividends. If a picture is worth a thousand words, the look on Holt’s face after he completed his victory against Vukic might have been worth a million. He raised both arms in the air in celebration like a champion boxer.
“Pure joy. I think it was a stressful day, all day waiting and knowing you’re up a break in the third set at a major and you know you’re playing well with a good opportunity,” Holt said. “Sleeping on it, waiting around all day, when you win it’s a big feeling of relief.”
As heartwarming as Holt’s US Open run was, there was an opportunity for him to advance deeper into the draw in New York. In the second round there, he let slip a two-set lead against Argentine Pedro Cachin, falling in a final-set tie-break.
Through all the delays against Vukic in Melbourne, Holt found himself in a similar place, deep in a fifth set at a major. This time, the 24-year-old found a way to win, and he did not think about his loss at the US Open.
“Honestly, my mind was in a different place. I wasn’t really thinking about my tough five-set loss at the US Open. Today I was thinking, ‘It’s been a long road to get here, I made it.’ One year ago, I was in [ITF] 15Ks, my first tournaments after an eight-month injury,” Holt said. “To be here, the crowd against me, it felt like a college match and I tried to embrace it. I wasn’t thinking about any other matches, just looking around and taking it in.
“It’s really cool. This is the pinnacle of tennis and to be playing on a stage like this, what an honour to have all these people getting into it. I think I handled it very well.”
This week last year, Holt was World No. 924, attempting to come back from a hand injury. In 2021, the American suffered hand pain, which plagued him for months. It was an osteoid osteoma, an extra bone growing on his fourth metacarpal. An August 2021 operation kept the former college tennis player at the University of Southern California out for the rest of the year.
After reaching the second round of the Australian Open, Holt is No. 185 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings. Following his first-round win, he quickly connected with his family back in the United States.
“Everyone’s watching back home. The time zones don’t affect those people at home. It doesn’t matter, they’re all watching. I know it because I get a million texts after my match and everybody is in bed, laying sideways and so happy,” Holt said. His mom? “She’s really proud and she sent me a text that any mom would send, emojis and hearts.”
As exciting as the past week has been for the Holt Family, the adventure is not over yet. Despite not having a day of rest because of the delays, the Californian will try to reach the third round at a major for the first time when he plays 24th seed Roberto Bautista Agut.
“Every match is an opportunity. Excited to play,” Holt said. “I’m fine not having a day off because I didn’t have to play too long [Wednesday], two-and-a-half sets. I don’t feel very tired, I’ll be ready to go. I’m excited.”
Holt has come a long way since falling behind by a set and a break in the first round of qualifying. His biggest fan in Melbourne, his father, is certainly enjoying the ride.
“Down a set and a break, that’s tennis. That’s the way it is, I’m used to it,” Holt’s father said. “After going through juniors and USC, this is a walk in the park!”