Emilio Nava was born to be an athlete.
The 22-year-old American’s mother, Xochitl, and father, Eduardo, met at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, where they competed in tennis and track, respectively. His brothers Eduardo and Diego were college tennis players and cousin Ernesto Escobedo climbed as high as No. 67 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings.
That DNA shows in Nava’s game. The two-time ATP Challenger Tour titlist is a dynamic mover on the court who can crack the ball with any opponent.
“I feel like I have the puzzle in front of me, I just need to learn how to put the pieces together,” Nava told ATPTour.com. “And that gives me confidence that if I just keep going every week being positive and just doing what I have to do and competing. One week out of 52 in the year, it's going to click. So I'm just looking for that one week and trying to do my best to have it be this week.”
Nava is a wild card at the Delray Beach Open, where Tuesday he will try to show his best game against Dallas finalist Marcos Giron. At a career-high World No. 144, he is moving closer to make his childhood dreams come true.
“I just wanted to play as a pro since I was a little kid. I knew I was athletic. My mom and my dad gave me those genes, so that's pretty cool. I had two older brothers that were super competitive, Diego and Eduardo, and they always pushed me to be better,” Nava said. “I couldn't beat them until I was like 15, 16, until I finally started beating them and I would rub it in their face a little bit. But I always knew I was tall, I was athletic, I was strong. I had good power. So I was like, ‘Let's just compete and see how it goes.’”
Nava’s journey has been different from that of most young Americans, though. As the Covid-19 pandemic began in 2020, he was isolating at home with his family. When tournaments resumed, a teen Nava travelled to Europe because there were more events to play. He had connections with the Ferrero Tennis Academy and ultimately moved his base there, training under former World No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero’s team for more than three years.
“I knew I needed to make some kind of sacrifice and some kind of decision to see if I want to make it, to see if I'm able to make it,” Nava said. “I always felt and I always believed that that's what I needed to do. I was never doubting my decision. I was always like, ‘This is what I want. This is what I'm going to do. And I'm going to get the most out of it.’”
The American loved his experience at the academy. Although Nava late last year decided to return to the United States — he is now based in Orlando, Florida — he carries with him lessons from the Spanish tennis culture.
“No matter what the circumstances, no matter how you're feeling, no matter what you're going through, you still come into work,” Nava said of one of the things he learned. “You still have got to give 100 per cent and do 100 per cent in what you've got to do. That's what they go off of so much.”
Something Nava has struggled with at times early in his career is maintaining consistency throughout matches and avoiding ups and downs. That has been a big focus lately. He had a good example to learn from in that department at the Ferrero Tennis Academy in Carlos Alcaraz.
“I was always trying to just look at his practices when we would practice together. What is he so good at?” Nava said. “I think it was just his consistency, but consistency mentally. Mentally he was always just so positive and on a straight line or anything positive. He was never up and down. And he's always just positive and consistent.”
Now Nava is keen to continue his climb. If the former junior World No. 5 is able to put his puzzle pieces together, the Top 100 could be a milestone he reaches sooner rather than later.
“That's huge. There are steps in my career and I feel like I've gotten over a lot of steps and I feel like there's just a few more that need to be, I guess, stepped on,” Nava said. “But the closer I get to the Top 100, the more I want to pass the Top 100. The more I want to pass the Top 100, the more I want to get into the 50s, 10s and then ultimately see what happens.”