Courting Favorites: Q&A w/Tennis fan, NBA star Steve Nash
March Madness occupies center stage in the nation’s sports consciousness, and to one NBA star, presents a channel-surfing challenge: Monitoring both the NCAA hoops tournament and the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami.
Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash led Santa Clara to three NCAA Tournament appearances, including an upset of second-seeded Arizona in the 1993 tournament. If you follow basketball, you know Nash is an All-Star point guard, but he’s also a lifelong tennis player and fan who enjoys a long-running tennis rivalry against a familiar face: His 65-year-old father, John Nash.
Growing up in Victoria, British Columbia, Nash, like many Canadian kids, was a hockey fanatic, who was inspired by both the quiet brilliance of Wayne Gretzky and the creative genius of John McEnroe. Both standouts shaped the player Nash would become.
“Growing up in Victoria playing soccer and hockey, there’s a slightly different culture in those sports—especially in hockey,” Nash recalls. “Nobody is bigger than the team, and if you ever start acting like you’re becoming bigger than the team, then you get knocked down a peg or two very quickly.”
A father and philanthropist, Nash was named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2006. You can see him during the NCAA tournament starring in a commercial campaign for the Dove Men+Care “Journey to Comfort”, recalling his emotions when Santa Clara made the tournament:
We caught up with Nash to talk tennis.
TENNIS.com: Who inspired you growing up?
Steve Nash: My parents inspired me. I had two great parents and a very middle-of-the-road upbringing. I was very fortunate in that I loved all sports at the start,and my parents encouraged me to play. I loved hockey, soccer, basketball, tennis, and baseball. Athletically, I was inspired by Wayne Gretzky and John McEnroe, and I drew a lot from different athletes and their path to greatness, and I definitely use that every day—to this day—to get better.
|Steve Nash, at right, holding a metal racquet. (Photo courtesy Steve Nash)|
TENNIS.com: How did you start playing tennis? How often do you play these days?
Steve Nash: I play a few times a year against my dad. My dad plays five days a week. He's 65, but he's pretty good. I started playing with my dad when I was a kid. He introduced me to the game. I played all sports and I always loved tennis, but I never took tennis to the competitive level of basketball.
TENNIS.com: What do you like about tennis?
Steve Nash: I just love the game. I love the athleticism and the skill of tennis. You need creativity and vision to play tennis, and like all sports, I like the fact that if you work hard, you can improve. You can manufacture a player out of a pile of assets and deficiencies in tennis, and I always thought that was exciting: To try to build a game around what you have, and to watch even the pros who have built a game around their strengths and weaknesses. It seems straightforward, but there is so much diversity of style in tennis. And a player's mentality and personality can be strengths in tennis.
TENNIS.com: What skills translate from basketball to tennis: Court sense, transitioning from offense to defense, movement?
Steve Nash: It's not hard to find similarities: There's physicality in both and though there's no contact in tennis, endurance, strength, flexibility, and mobility are all assets in both tennis and basketball. I think creativity and vision and the idea of finding angles are also very similar. Like in all sports, the biggest factor, I think, is the mentality of the player—their mental toughness. The ability to cope with different situations is so important. It's completely open and on the line in tennis as in basketball. The difference is in basketball you're processing 10 or more personalities on court, whereas in tennis you're processing two.
TENNIS.com: Who do you like to watch play and why?
Steve Nash: Federer and Nadal are both incredible. Roger's shot-making ability, athleticism, and vision are amazing. Djokovic, in the past year, has put himself on a level that is very comparable. Nadal has a lot of game as well; I'm not taking away anything from his game, but his mentality is so impressive. I really feel like Nadal is right there as the toughest athlete in any sport. He is mentally so strong. He digs so deep. I respect Nadal as much as any athlete in any sport for his mentality.
I know I am naming the top three players in the game and there's a lot of other guys—and women—who are great, exciting and offer a lot, but it's very special to see three players at the top of the game play at the level those three are at.
TENNIS.com: How has fatherhood changed you?
Steve Nash: You completely understand what's important when you're a parent. A lot of things that seemed important before are completely irrelevant once you become a parent. As an athlete we always say you have to be selfish to prepare, train, and recover, and a lot of things that were once a source of distress are put in their proper place as a parent. You now know the most important thing is providing for your kids, loving them, giving them attention and teaching them how to handle their world in the right ways.
TENNIS.com: You mentioned John McEnroe as an influence. Like you, McEnroe played team sports growing up, yet on the surface your personalities seem so different. What is it about McEnroe that inspires you?
Steve Nash: Our personalities are different for sure. Actually, to be honest, maybe our personalities are not as different as you may think. Maybe I just keep the curtain closed a little bit longer than he does and maybe he opens the curtain up much quicker. I think we probably both share the same emotions when we're out on the court. But what I loved about McEnroe was, number one, his passion. He was obviously out there just battling with all he had, fighting for every point and enthralled by the competition. McEnroe's creativity and touch was just a thing of beauty. He always drew me in with just that subtle touch of an angle, his skills and his gamesmanship. It was a pleasure to watch him play.