Only one short month ago, a keen eye focused on the US Open and the emergence of Southern California’s growing roster of young players poised to lead the forthcoming charge of US Tennis. With champions in both Men’s and Women’s doubles, plus finalists in both Boy’s doubles and Wheelchair Quads, Southern California is again a hotbed of talent on the verge of breaking in to the national (and international) spotlight.
In September, four USTA Pro Circuit events came to Southern California and served as a showcase of TeamSoCal’s budding potential. San Diego’s Brandon Nakashima, entered as a Wild Card, stormed through the draw in Laguna Niguel to earn his first Pro Circuit title. Nakashima, who reached the Boy’s singles quarterfinals at the US Open, went the distance with #7 Dominik Kellovsky in a second round win, then toppled former UCLA standout Martin Redlicki in the quarters. With #2 Henry Craig in the semis, Nakashima scored a three-set win to set up a showdown with another UCLA Bruin, Maxime Cressy. Nakashima triumphed, 6-4, 6-4, to earn the title.
The 17-year old Wild Card recipient downplayed the shift from Grand Slam stage to quaint California tennis club. “I just want to play more matches,” he said. “Every match is pretty much the same for me.”
Nakashima wasn’t the only SoCal athlete to claim victory on the Pro Circuit in September. Asia Muhammad, who has enjoyed a strong doubles season in 2018, returned to the singles spotlight with a victory in Templeton at the Central Coast Pro Tennis Open. The six-time ITF singles titlist Muhammad (Long Beach) faced multiple third set challenges, and all three times she rose to the occasion in grand fashion. Splitting the first two sets in both the 1st and 2nd rounds, Muhammad answered by winning 12 of 13 games in those early third sets. In the final, Muhammad bested Sesil Karantantcheva (BUL), 2-6, 6-4, 6-3. In grand total, Muhammad was 18-4 in third set games at Templeton.
Back in Laguna Niguel, Emilio Nava and the #3 seed, Japan’s Takuto Niki, set the stage for a breakout dominant performance by the 16-year old from Woodland Hills. Coming off an impressive second place showing in Boy’s doubles at Flushing Meadows, where he and Axel Nefve were mere points away from securing a tiebreaker in the deciding set before settling for a superb runner-up finish, Nava ripped powerful groundstrokes with ease and dispatched the experienced Niki, 6-3, 6-1.
Even more impressive was Nava’s ability to raise the level of his game without suffering emotional hangover from the thrill of a championship final on Court Six at the Open – something that often plagues pro athletes who compete in career-defining events like the Olympics.
“This is where I grew up, in Southern California,” Nava said after his second round win, appreciative of the locals who come out during the week to enjoy some homegrown tennis. “This is my home.”