Get To Know Emilio Nava: 10 Questions For The First-Time Challenger Champion
#NextGenATP American reflects on maiden crown in Shymkent
While the world's best have descended on Roland Garros for the second Grand Slam event of the year, one player is seizing the spotlight and turning heads on the ATP Challenger Tour. His name is Emilio Nava. The 20-year-old from Los Angeles, California, has certainly staked his claim as the latest #NextGenATP star to watch on the Challenger circuit.
On Friday, the American completed a dominant two-week stretch in Shymkent, Kazakhstan, following up a near-flawless run to his maiden title with a semi-final finish. He dropped just two sets in posting an 8-1 mark on the Kazakh clay. His reward? A shiny new career-high of No. 233 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. At 20 years and five months, Nava is the youngest American to win on clay in nearly four years.
It should come as no surprise that Nava is quickly finding his form on tour. A two-time junior Grand Slam finalist, at the 2019 Australian Open and 2019 US Open, he currently trains with World No. 6 Carlos Alcaraz at Juan Carlos Ferrero's academy in Spain. And he has sporting success in his Mexican-American genes. Not only did his mother Xochitl feature on the WTA Tour, but his father Eduardo ran track professionally. Both competed for Mexico at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Nava, who ascends to 14th position in the Pepperstone ATP Race To Milan, spoke to ATPTour.com after a breakthrough two-week run in Shymkent...
Emilio, congrats on winning your first Challenger title. Can you describe your emotions? How did it feel after match point?
It was 6/3 in the tie-break and I looked towards my coach and said 'I'm going for it'. I missed the first serve and I just said that. It was match point and I wouldn't respect myself after, if I didn't give it my all. It was a big second serve down the T and he missed it. It was a sense of relief after six days of battling for every point.
I was so proud. My grandpa actually died before the first round and it was really emotional. I just tried to motivate myself and I was super happy to do that for him. I talked to my dad and my mom and they told me to play for him, and that would make him happy. I just went out there and I think I did a good job of that.
It is always special to win your first title. And then you reached the semis the second week. How do you explain your success in Shymkent?
My last title I won, it was a 15k ITF event about a year ago. I knew going into the week, I'd have some chances, because I was feeling good and had a good training block. I was putting in some strong results and happy with my tennis. But you can't get too high when you're playing good and get too low when you're playing bad. I tried to stay solid and I think I did a good job of that.
I knew I was playing high-level tennis and I wasn't surprising myself, but I made sure I stayed true to my game. Stay aggressive, look to hit those winners, and I really based my strategy against the opponents based on how I wanted to play. Every match was a new challenge that I was super ready for.
What is the biggest thing you've learned stepping up to the Challenger level?
I've actually been thinking about that quite a bit. The most important thing is mentally being able to be there for every single point. Stay with it for every point, because if you lose your focus, the other guy sees that you're not 100 per cent. I just make sure that I'm competing in every game, every point, every ball, and I think that showed last week. Imposing your will on your opponent. It's an important mentality.
Of course, Ferrero and Alcaraz are focused on Roland Garros, but what was their reaction to your win?
It was pretty cool. Juan Carlos watches most of my Challenger matches. He texts me after every single one. He's super invested in my development, which is amazing. You don't get too many World No. 1s who are behind your back. If I ever have any questions about anything, it's just such an open relationship.
What's your relationship like with Alcaraz? How does his success inspire you?
We've grown up together for the past few years, so we're super close. He's dangerous. It's good to see that someone like that, after training with him a lot, can do it [on the ATP Tour]. It just motivates you, that you can do it too.
Last year, he won the Next Gen ATP Finals. Right now, you're up to No. 14 [in the Pepperstone ATP Race To Milan]. Is that tournament on your radar?
I started the year not really thinking about it, but after I won this last week, it came to my mind. I'm still in the race. I have one more year. I checked my ranking and I'm in there. I'm a few points behind the next guys. I'm looking forward to it. I think it's a sick tournament, because it's so infused with the modern way of living. Good music, the lights, the way the court looks. It looks like a lot of fun.
Emilio, how did you get your start in tennis?
Me and my brothers grew up running track and also playing tennis. Running track was great, because it turned us into athletes. It gave us the endurance and to know more about our bodies and how to use it better. My dad always knew that we'd play tennis. The money can be better and you can become more recognizable. I started following my brothers, who are older than me.
I ran on the court when they were playing, picking up the balls, and then I started hitting with them. I always remember my brothers training and I'd be on the other side just slicing the ball back. Just having fun. I loved competing against them. Later, I started winning sectional tournaments and became the No. 1 junior in California. My mom was my coach until I was 17, and then I went to an academy in Los Angeles.
You have sporting success in your genes. Take us through your family history.
My mom played tennis when she grew up in Mexico. She has nine siblings and they played at the tennis court in their house, which my grandfather built for them. I used to visit when I was younger, but not since I can remember. Anyway, she played tennis professionally and was Top 300 on the WTA Tour. She played in the Olympics in Seoul in 1988 and that's actually where she met my dad. He ran track for Mexico. They kept in contact and my dad ran again at the Olympics in 1992 in Barcelona. He ran the 100-meter, 400-meter and the 4x100-meter relay. The University of Alabama recruited him and he and the relay team held the national record for many years.
[ATP pro] Ernesto Escobedo is my cousin. My mom and Ernesto's father are siblings. And I always looked up to my brother Eduardo. He plays tennis at Wake Forest University and still wants to play professionally.
Who was your idol growing up?
David Ferrer was my favourite. I have a picture of him over my bed in my room. I was 17 and got a wild card into Acapulco in 2019 and my coach set up a hit with him. I was never happier in my life. It was 3-all in the first and he didn't miss a ball for the rest of the set. There's a click and those guys go up to the next gear and you have to match it. They all have one trait that makes them the greatest and that's it.
Lastly, give us an idea of who Emilio is off the court. What's your perfect day without tennis?
Wake up and go for a run and do some yoga. Eat a huge breakfast with some pancakes. Have a burger for lunch and then watch a football game. And just chill.
I'm a funny guy. I like cracking jokes and having fun. When I need to get serious, I'll do that, but I'm outgoing and like getting to know different people.