Mochizuki’s Secret To Challenger Success: Studying Baseball Players Ohtani & Darvish
A rising teen on the ATP Challenger Tour, Shintaro Mochizuki has occasionally leaned on Japanese icon Kei Nishikori for advice. But Mochizuki’s quest for knowledge doesn’t just come from fellow tennis players.
The 19-year-old looks up to Japanese baseball stars, notably Los Angeles Angels pitcher Shohei Ohtani and San Diego Padres’ Yu Darvish. Mochizuki researches their off-field routine and tries to implement pieces of it into his training plan.
“I watch a lot of baseball,” Mochizuki told ATPTour.com. “I watched the World Baseball Classic last month. I watched most of Japan's games, they have some great players. There are several Japanese players playing in the MLB, so I watch them a lot.
“Especially Shohei Ohtani and Yu Darvish, they're my favourite. I've never met them, but I think they're super strict with nutrition, fitness, everything they do is amazing. I think that's why they're playing at that level. I learn a lot of things from baseball players. Those guys always have a purpose to work, to practise, to go to the gym, to sleep, also their recovery is very important.
“Those are the things that I always want to know about what they do after a game, before a game, and their routine. I try to find them on the internet. If I get a chance, I want to meet them and I want to ask them a lot of questions.”
The last month has been one to remember for Mochizuki. Japan defeated the United States 3-2 to win the World Baseball Classic in Miami and Ohtani was named Most Valuable Player. Nearly three weeks later, #NextGenATP star Mochizuki earned his maiden Challenger title in Barletta, Italy.
Shintaro Mochizuki triumphs at the Barletta Challenger. Credit: Open Citta della Disfida.
Mochizuki became the third Japanese teenager to win a Challenger title, joining Nishikori (Bermuda 2008) and Yoshihito Nishioka (Shanghai 2014). Coached by former World No. 42 Davide Sanguinetti, the Kawasaki native dropped just one set all week at the Barletta Challenger to rise to a career-high No. 216 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings.
“I didn't expect it actually,” Mochizuki said. “My best Challenger result was three quarter-finals. It was a surprise to me, I know I could beat those guys but winning a tournament is different. You have to win five, six matches in a row, which is really difficult. I believed I could do it, but after I won, it was a surprise.”
A former junior No. 1, Mochizuki completed a dream run at Wimbledon in 2019, when he became the first Japanese male player in history to win a major boys’ singles title. His reaction to lifting the junior crown at the All England Club was something he considers a ‘pinch-me’ moment.
“Winning Wimbledon juniors was my first year playing Grand Slam juniors, I didn't know anything about the level,” Mochizuki said. “I didn't feel anything after I won it, it was a weird feeling. It was awkward like, 'Am I winning a junior Grand Slam?' I was already hoping to become a professional player but that made me feel even more like I want to be a great player.”
Among those to congratulate Mochizuki on his biggest career title was former World No. 4 Nishikori, whom he built a relationship with when they shared a training base at IMG Academy for several years.
“I got to know Kei when I moved to Florida at 12 or 13,” Mochizuki said. “He was already like Top 10 when I first met him. I didn't know anything about professional tennis, so I was like, 'Maybe I can beat this guy!' Now I feel like what he's achieved is incredible, it's super difficult.
“I don't want to say that I can't do it but being Top 5, Top 10 for so many years is unreal. I want to be like that. I want to do as good as he did in the past years. I don't know if it's going to happen but I'm going to do whatever I can, work super hard to become like those players.
“When I see Kei, he's always nice and talks to me. There's so many things that I don't know and he has experience, so when there's something I want to know, when I see him I always ask. He's always super nice to give me advice.”