Naoki Nakagawa, Japan's latest rising son, wins opener at IMG Academy Futures

jdill@bradenton.comNovember 13, 2013 

BRADENTON -- In the past year, Naoki Nakagawa has transformed himself into a well-rounded tennis player capable of big things.

On Tuesday, Nakagawa, of Japan, needed all his skills to edge American Michael Mmoh 7-5, 3-6, 7-5 in the first round of the IMG Academy Futures, a USTA Pro Circuit event.

The match lasted four hours. The players knew each another well from their time spent training at IMG together.

"We know how to play each other," Nakagawa said.

Nakagawa advances to the second round, where he will face the winner of Tommy Mylnikov and No. 2 seed Alexis Musialek, who are scheduled to play Wednesday.

In Tuesday's opening round, Nakagawa showcased a heavy serve and a powerful forehand to match his deft touch on drop shots against Mmoh on the clay courts at IMG Academy.

The X factor was Nakagawa's experience; the 16-year-old is one year older than Mmoh.

"It was like a popcorn match, because they know each other," IMG Academy's director of tennis Rohan Goetzke said. "I'm proud of the level tennis that they played."

Nakagawa began attending IMG two years ago as a recipient of the Masaaki-Morita Tennis Fund, a program started by the founding families of Sony to provide scholarships to potential stars.

One of those future stars, Kei Nishikori, who is ranked 17th in the world, thrived off the program during his stint at IMG and became a role model for Nakagawa.

Nishikori's style, which features a deadly serve and incredible foot speed to compensate for a 5-foot-10 frame, is similar to Nagakawa's game.

Nishikori might be Japan's rising son, but Nagakawa is heading in that direction during Japan's golden age of tennis, evidenced by the 16-year-old capturing his first Futures Tour title in Mexico last month and his nation produced three players ranked in the top 100 at the conclusion of last year for the first time in history.

Those players were Nishikori, Go Soeda and Tatsumo Ito.

"In tennis ... for each country, once you see somebody performing well, it's very big for the other players behind because they see that they can also make it," said Lucho Arboleda, a coach of Nagakawa's who travels with him to tournaments.

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