Emilio Nava laid out a towel on the sidewalk a few feet from the entrance into Marks Tennis Stadium on the campus of USC and began his post-match stretching ritual as his mother and coach Xochitl Escobedo Nava bent over and began breaking down the match with her son.
The 18-year-old Nava from Woodland Hills is the youngest of three sons from Xochitl and her husband Eduardo, who like Xochitl is a former world-class athlete from Mexico as both competed in the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea, Xochitl in tennis and Eduardo as a sprinter in the 100 meters.
“Coaching Emilio comes naturally for me,” Xochitl said. “We have three sons and all play tennis. I spent time on the court teaching them since they were young. Tennis has always been part of my life and it was passed onto me by my father. So as Emilio grew older and got better I always stood by him on the side of the court. We would speak before and after matches, then return to the court and correct the errors while bettering the strengths.”
Emilio, who unlike his two older brothers decided to forgo an NCAA Division I tennis scholarship, was a standout SoCal junior and turned professional following the US Open in 2018. Emilio signed his professional management deal with IMG and is now living and training full-time in Orlando with the USTA.
He has had hit what he calls a few “speed bumps” beginning his professional journey that has prevented his ascension more rapidly up the ATP World Tour rankings. But he’s still just 18 years old, so there’s no time to panic.
“I had two injuries, but I came back to make the final at the US Open Juniors so that was pretty good,” said Nava, who was at USC competing in this year’s first ITF Pro Futures event as a wild card. “I definitely learned and have matured.”
If Emilio would have followed brothers Eduardo (Wake Forest redshirt junior) and Diego (Loyola Marymount junior) into the college ranks he would have been joining Eduardo in Winston-Salem and playing for Wake Forest.
Taking advantage of three USTA wild cards, Nava made the semifinals in singles at the USC Futures, the quarterfinals the following week at Rancho Santa Fe and the semis on clay in Weston, Fla. The points have raised Nava’s ATP World Tour ranking to No. 764 and climbing.
Emilio also advanced to the semifinals at USC in doubles playing with older brother Eduardo.
Entertaining to watch, the two pumped one another up and were vocal throughout the match. “With my other brother Diego, our chemistry is a joke,” said Emilio, who one year ago made the singles final at the Australian Open Juniors. “But it’s different with Eduardo because he tries to boss me around. So it’s more of a situation like you do you and I’ll do me.”
Xochitl sat back and watched her two sons, surely beaming with pride.
As a professional, she won three ITF singles titles and cracked the WTA top 300. She also represented her native country at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, Korea.
“I don’t think the plan was always for me to be his coach,” Xochitl said. “It is something that evolved naturally. I love my sons equally. The three of them have different personalities and in tennis we always found ourselves sharing special moments. And honestly, I feel very fortunate that tennis has given me a bond and thousands of hours that many parents do not get to share with their children. I consider this a huge blessing.”
Any relationship between a coach and a player is tumultuous at times. It goes through ebbs and flows. For us, the partnership continues at home, so yes, it makes things delicate at times but as anything in life, you learn through communication and you grow from the situation.
“What is more significant, no matter what happens on the court, Emilio is always my son first and that is the relationship which is way more important.”
She continued: “It is something we are both very clear on. He knows that I will always be his number one fan. Right now the dynamic is simple. The USTA has provided help with coaches who are supporting and working with Emilio in his tournaments and training weeks when I am not around. We are working together as a team.”