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Center court with Naomi Osaka's trainer: Starting a new journey with a young player

Denis Shapovalov, third from left, and trainer Yutaka Nakamura, far left, are seen in this provided photo.

Yutaka Nakamura, 49, had been a personal trainer to 24-year-old tennis star Naomi Osaka since June 2020. After leaving Osaka's team in May, he has been coaching Denis Shapovalov, 23, a Canadian tennis player ranked No. 15 in the world. To wrap up the series, Nakamura compares the men's and women's professional tennis tours, and expresses his excitement about working with a new young athlete with great potential.

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    Two years ago, when I worked at IMG Academy (located in Florida), which attracts athletes from around the world, I was occasionally in charge of training Shapovalov, who was also practicing there. I officially joined his team in May, and first accompanied him to clay court tournaments in Europe.

    At the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, a prelude to the French Open, Shapovalov defeated Spain's "King of Clay" Rafael Nadal, 35, and went on to the quarterfinals. Though I planned to join him at the French Open if he won and advanced to succeeding rounds, he unfortunately lost his first match.

    The difference between the men's and women's tours is that the men's season is about one month longer. Therefore, male players compete in more tournaments throughout the year. Training methods also differ between men and women professionals. Top women's singles players often practice with male hitting partners, and in most cases, the women move around with their team, including coaches and trainers, during tours.

    On the other hand, many male players do not have designated hitting partners and instead practice with each other. During the tournament, they find companions to practice with, and sometimes a compatible pair even talk about becoming doubles partners. Male tennis players seem to be closer with each other.

    Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the organizers of Wimbledon announced that tennis players from Russia and Belarus will not be allowed to compete in this year's tournament, which starts June 27. This is an extraordinary move in the tennis world. Unlike the Olympics, where athletes represent their respective countries, tennis tournaments including Grand Slams have a strong tendency to treat competitors as individual athletes.

    The Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) which supervise the tour criticized Wimbledon's decision as nationality-based discrimination and announced it will remove ranking points from this year's tournament. Wimbledon has been known to maintain unique rules, such as requiring all players to wear white and adopting a special seeding formula.

    Shapovalov has a strong ambition to become "No. 1" in the world. He competed in the semifinals of Wimbledon last year, and I think he plays well on grass courts. The Canadian player is left-handed and is characterized by springy and vigorous movements. He loves music, and has even recorded and released his own rap songs.

    Shapovalov has Russian roots, and his idol is Maria Sharapova, the former women's world No. 1 from Russia. He grew up being coached by his mother, who was a pro tennis player. He can speak English, but uses Russian to talk with his mother and Russian athletes.

    Naomi and Maria Sharapova, who I have experience training, were tennis players who became "No. 1" and had their own style. Shapovalov still lacks unity, but is on the road to becoming an interesting player.

    During the two years I trained with Naomi, she won two Grand Slam titles. Right now, her ranking is a bit low, but I thought she had super high levels of concentration and passion. She embodies diversity, and is an athlete that represents the current age.

    Yutaka Nakamura is seen during training with Denis Shapovalov, front, in this provided photo.

    Up until now, I have worked as a personal trainer for many women's tennis players, but am now ready to view the sport through male players.

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    This is the last installation of the "Center court with Naomi Osaka's trainer" series.

    (Interview by Hiromi Nagano, Tokyo City News Department. Nagano is a former professional tennis player who has competed in all four major tournaments.)

    Profile: Yutaka Nakamura is originally from Tokyo and was the strength and conditioning coach for Naomi Osaka, the 2018 and 2020 U.S. Open and the 2019 and 2021 Australian Open champion. Nakamura has led training programs for many professionals including Maria Sharapova, Kei Nishikori, Tommy Haas, Mary Pierce and Jennifer Capriati.

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