One click of a computer mouse could transport Brandon Holt to 1979 as Tracy Austin sliced through the US Open field to become the major’s youngest winner at 16. With the tap of a finger, he could be courtside as Austin clawed her way to No. 1 in the world a year later.
Holt recently topped top-ranked American Taylor Fritz on Aug. 29 at the Open, the place where Austin cemented her legendary status with a second title at 18. The curiosity must be uncontrollable, right?
Nah. It’s just mom.
“Randomly on Tennis Channel they show some old matches, so I’ve seen some points,” said Holt, 24, who faces France’s Constant Lestienne in the second match of the 5:30 pm session Monday in the San Diego Open ATP 250 at Barnes Tennis Center. “I definitely haven’t watched a whole match or anything like that.”
San Diego Open ATP 250
When, where: Monday through Sunday, Barnes Tennis Center
players: San Diego’s Brandon Nakashima and fellow American Jenson Brooksby headline the player field. The highest ranked player in the tournament is Britain’s Daniel Evans (No. 23). Nakashima’s first match is at 5:30 pm Tuesday against another San Diegan, Zachary Svajda.
Schedule: Day sessions begin at 11:30 a.m.; night sessions begin at 5:30 pm The finals start at 2 pm Sunday.
Tickets: Prices start at $30 (main draw). https://barnessdopen.com/tickets
Additional info: https://barnessdopen.com/
Pressed for details of his talented mother’s career, which made her the youngest inductee into the International Tennis Hall of Fame at age 29, Holt and Austin volleyed.
“I think I saw a (Open) tiebreaker where you were playing, I forget who,” Holt said.
“I forget who? That’s the respect I get?” Austin, now 59, said as she fell into a riotous laughter.
“It was the end of the US Open. It was either Chris Evert or Martina Navratilova,” he said.
“The tiebreaker, sweetie, would have been Martina,” she said.
There’s no familial lack of appreciation for what Austin achieved during her remarkable career, which featured four titles in San Diego including clinchers against fellow Hall of Famers Navratilova and Pam Shriver.
It’s just, well, mom.
“I haven’t had a mom who hasn’t been No. 1 in the world,” Holt reasoned. “I don’t what a mom who’s not that is. But yeah, to do that at 17 is crazy.”
Holt has penned his own bit of craziness in 2022. Pain in his dominant, right hand led to a diagnosis of osteoid osteoma, a noncancerous bone tumor that developed in the fourth metacarpal. The two possible treatments are to burn away the tumor or undergo surgery.
Either option posed enormous tennis risks.
“If they singed the tendon (burning it), his career would be done,” said Austin, noting only a few cases of surgery in the area Holt experienced had been attempted.
As the case bounced between doctors, Dr. Steven Shin, a hand consultant for Los Angeles pro franchises that include the Lakers, Dodgers, Rams and Kings signed on. He had to cut away the tumor, then graft in new bone.
Holt’s hand was in a cast for months.
“I couldn’t make a fist,” Holt said. “I couldn’t squeeze anything. I couldn’t touch my thumb to my pinkie. It was a really slow process coming back. I couldn’t even run, because I could feel my heartbeat in my hand. Sitting at a table with a therapist, ‘OK, pick up this ball and put it in this cup.’ It was very tedious. But my hand didn’t work.
“It felt like my hand was brittle. It felt like, if I knocked on a door, it would just shatter.”
In January, as he returned to competition after an eight-month layoff, Holt was ranked No. 924 in the world. He has entered a trio of tournaments in Cancun, Mexico, despite being uncertain of how his hand would respond.
Holt sailed through 15 straight matches to win all three.
“That was incredible,” Austin said.
Holt has won five International Tennis Federation tournaments since coming back. Then he rattled off three straight wins in qualifying matches for the US Open, the center of Austin’s tennis universe, to reach the main draw.
There, I played Fritz, ranked No. 10 in the world at the time. The first two sets reached tiebreakers. Holt rolled 6-3, 6-4 the rest of the way to record his first ATP win… in a major… against one of the best on the planet… seven months after wondering if his career might be over before it truly started .
An extra dollop of absurdity? Holt and Fritz essentially grew up together in tennis.
They practice in Carson when Fritz is in the area. The families have traveled together for events. Austin and Holt stayed with the Fritz family when the boys partnered in doubles at Barnes.
Another connection: Austin paired with Fritz’s mother, Kathy May, in doubles at the US Open.
“It’s a full-circle situation,” she said.
Familiarity helped lessen Holt’s big-stage nerves.
“I knew how he played, so I felt a little more comfortable than if I played someone random,” said Holt, who has climbed more than 700 ranking spots to No. 223.
San Diego feels more than a little bit familiar to Austin. She used to play junior events at Morley Field. She won the last of her 30 WTA titles here in 1982.
Another memorable moment?
“A bank brought $1 million to a press conference (as a Las Vegas-styled prop) because I crossed the million-dollar mark in prize money, which in those days was a big deal,” Austin said. “Now you can do that in one tournament, but you couldn’t do it back then.
“I’ve had incredible chapters in San Diego.”
Starting Monday, Holt has a chance to start creating his own.
“It was scary for a little bit with the hand,” he said. “It wasn’t a sure thing that it was going to be fine. It was sore at first when I came back, but I haven’t had any issues so far.”
That’s another healthy hand to check out mom’s tennis clips.