At Australian Open, a Legacy Tracing Back to a Backyard in Mexico

At Australian Open, a Legacy Tracing Back to a Backyard in Mexico

MELBOURNE, Australia — Emilio Nava stood at the microphone on the court of Rod Laver Arena and smiled broadly.

“Wow,” he said, smiling again. “Wow.”

It was hard to know he had just lost. Nava, 17, seeded 13th, saved three championship points and held one of his own before falling, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (12), to top-seeded Lorenzo Musetti of Italy in the Australian Open boys’ singles final on Saturday. (On Friday, Nava lost in the boys’ doubles final.)

Despite the double dose of disappointment, he remained undimmed.

“It means the world to come out here on Rod Laver and play, thank you so much,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll be back, and see you later, thank you!”

The foundation of tennis success in Nava’s family can be traced to an undersized court in a small town in Mexico. His grandfather Ernesto Escobedo Sr. fell in love with the sport when he watched a Davis Cup tie in Los Angeles. After moving his large family to Jerez, Mexico, he built a tennis court, or as much of one as he could fit, in the family’s backyard.

Xóchitl Nava, Emilio’s mother, said the little court her father built had its limitations, but also offered boundless opportunities.

“On one side of the court, we didn’t have room to hit a backhand or forehand,” she said in a telephone interview. “So it was a tennis court, but more of a playground where we could hit balls and have fun.”

Their father’s passion for tennis rubbed off on many of his 10 children.

“When we started getting older, everybody went their own ways,” Xóchitl Nava said. “But we were always playing tennis.”

That court spurred her to a modest professional career — she reached a high of 284th and represented Mexico in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. But it proved an even stronger trampoline for the next generation: Nava’s reaching two junior Grand Slam finals at this tournament alone is just the latest example.

Xóchitl Nava’s nephew Ernesto Escobedo reached a career-best ATP ranking of No. 68 in 2017. Her oldest son, Eduardo, plays at Wake Forest, the reigning national champion. Her middle son, Diego, plays for Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles.

Emilio Nava first made a splash at the elite junior level by reaching the final of the prestigious Eddie Herr tournament last year. He stays in touch with his tennis-playing cousins and siblings in an active group chat.

“It’s everything, really,” he said of the sport. “Especially when you train every day, it becomes a lifestyle, you know? It becomes every day that you’re thinking about it — you try to relax a little bit, but it’s still there. But it’s fun, yeah, yeah, for sure.”

He now splits his time between California and Alicante, Spain, where he trains at the Juan Carlos Ferrero Equelite Sport Academy. When he is home in Woodland Hills, Calif., he trains across the street at the backyard court of his cousin Jaime’s house.

On Sunday, Xóchitl Nava expressed little disappointment about Emilio’s defeat.

“Seeing him in the finals, for us, it’s like a dream,” she said. “We’re just very lucky and fortunate to have Emilio, and to watch him play in a big stadium like that, it’s really unbelievable.”

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