When Xochitl Nava and her husband Eduardo settled in Los Angeles back in 1998 and began plans to start a family, they knew some day their children would likely be influenced to play popular team sports such as soccer, football, basketball and baseball.
Both Xochitl and Eduardo had excelled in individual sports for their home country of Mexico. Xochitl was a No. 1 women’s tennis player and Eduardo a successful track and field athlete at Alabama who competed in both the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul alongside Xochitl, and the 1992 Games in Barcelona.
Of course, the Nava boys – 23-year-old Eduardo, 21-year-old Diego and 18-year-old Emilio – dabbled in team sports popular in America growing up with their friends in Woodland Hills. But they always migrated back to the tennis court.
“My husband would take them to the track for fun and they would run,” said Xochitl, whose nephew Ernesto Escobedo is currently ranked No. 175 on the ATP World Tour. “They would play soccer with their friends, and even football in middle school, but we would go to the courts and hit tennis balls, and they just kept wanting it more and more.”
All those early days on the courts with his mom and older brothers has helped enable Emilio to become a two-time Grand Slam finalist at both the US Open in doubles and Australian Open in singles. Ranked No. 622 in the world, Emilio decided to turn pro over the college route his brothers took.
“Growing up we did play a few team sports, but we always knew that tennis was going to be our path and that we really enjoyed it,” Emilio said. “Playing different sports definitely made us better athletes and good competitors. Ultimately, we chose tennis because our parents definitely pushed in that sport the most. And we also just simply loved it.”
Diego enjoyed soccer and track and field meets until he was 12, but said by the time the boys became teenagers, it was all tennis. “I think we just felt there were more opportunities for us in tennis,” Diego said. “It became the focus and where we spent most of our time.”
The SoCal junior circuit with its competitive tournaments became a weekend family ritual for the Navas. “It was such a fun process, seeing the boys develop and start at the small tournaments, and then compete in the Designated events and Sectionals,” Xochitl said. “They just kept going and wanted to see how far they could go until we finally started playing the ITFs. They were just so in love with the sport.”
Xochitl and her boys have helped spread their love of tennis within her community, donating time and resources to the Pete Brown Foundation, and the Barajas Foundation.
She would like to see more Hispanics playing tennis in Southern California, where half of the population is of Latino descent. “In Los Angeles we have a big Latin population, but we don’t have as many players in SoCal representing Latins as we probably could have,” she said. “I think it has a lot do with exposure to the sport and programs at a really young age and getting the Latins and the Mexicans involved early on.”
Diego said he sees the effort being made by the USTA in SoCal. “I think they have put it out there, and it’s up to the community to give it a try,” he said. “Maybe there could be more events in certain areas or demographics, but overall they do a great job of creating opportunities for young players to be exposed to the sport.”
Emilio agreed with Diego. “I think (USTA SoCal) is doing a great job of involving the Latino community into playing tennis by having different outreach programs in different areas,” he said. “I also think that having one high level Mexican-American tennis player in the U.S. will give hope and make Latinos want to play tennis competitively. I think having a group of young Latinos being inspired and inspiring each other with great coaching from the USTA on a national level is crucial.”
Next: Amid the current pandemic and COVID-19 shutdown, 18-year-old Emilio Nava has leaned on his close-knit family to continue his rise up the world rankings ladder.
Steve Pratt's columns appear weekly at USTAsocal.com.