Written by Eli Olguin

The Japanese standout from Ishikawa has found his new home here in Clemson, S.C. for the past three years, and has taken the ACC by storm in the process, earning all-conference honors for the first time in his career this season.

Azuma has been playing sports his entire life but fell in love with tennis at a young age. Coming to the United States to play collegiately was a big move and required a lot of sacrifice.

“Before I got here I was sad, leaving home was hard, and I knew it was going to be challenging meeting new people. Everything was going to be different,” Azuma stated.  

The two biggest changes that he had to go through were the language barrier and the style of tennis. “I spoke no English before I got here, so speaking to my teachers, classmates and teammates was difficult. As for the style of the game, it is way different here. In Japan the players have a lot of finesse and touch, whereas here everyone is so big and uses so much power in their game. Big forehands and backhands from my competitors made it hard to adapt at first.” 

Another aspect that was difficult for Azuma was the food here in the United States. “One thing I can’t stand is dried fruit and plums. I was given some and those are a no go for me. The best food I had when I got here was the sushi and ramen we had in Oklahoma a couple years ago. It rivaled sushi we have back home, that’s how good it was.”  

Azuma talks about moving across the world to go to school and play tennis saying, “it was a really big deal for me, and I take a lot of pride in representing Japan while I am here. Only three or four kids from my age group came to the United States to play. There is a lot of pressure to perform while I am here because I know everyone back home is watching me, but I enjoy it.” 

Growing up in Japan, Azuma always had a lot of people to look up to, but his biggest inspiration is Japanese tennis star Kei Nishikori. “He was top three in the world at one point, and I always try to model my game after his. Not only is he a very strong player, but he is very smart on the court as well which I like.” 

His favorite part about being from Japan is the people. “Everyone back home is very polite and there is a really positive culture everywhere. Nobody bad mouths anyone, and the people are friendly.”

After being done with matches, Azuma likes to relax, eat some good food, and think about what he did right and wrong and how he can improve his play for the next match. Analyzing his technique and style of play after every match has been super helpful for his game. He watches all of his matches after and thinks about what he can do better. 

Azuma loves tennis because it is both an individual and a team sport at the same time. He explained, “it’s not like soccer where you are with your teammates the whole time.  You have to do your job individually so that the team as a whole can succeed. If I do my job well, then it sets up my teammates to do theirs.”

Azuma loves being in Clemson because of the culture of the team. He explained, “we are very close as a team. We meet everyday at practice, and we push each other to be the best we can every day. Not only are we teammates, but we are all very close friends.” 

With Azuma being a tennis talent from a young age, there are many accolades that he has collected over his career. Before coming to Clemson he explained that he earned the opportunity to play in the Australian Open juniors event and the US Open juniors event. “Playing in those high level tournaments like that really prepared me for the next level, and I was super grateful to play in them.” 

Making a big splash here in Clemson, Azuma earned ACC Player of the Week honors on Jan. 31. and ultimately earned his first All Conference honor, being tabbed Third-Team All ACC. That was one of my biggest accomplishments while being here, and it really made me feel good about myself and my game.”

Although he had played tennis his whole life, it wasn’t until high school that he learned that he could take his love for the game to the next level. “In high school I played local tournaments, and on one occasion there were a few professionals in the field. I ended up winning the tournament, and I beat three professionals and thought to myself, ‘wow I can do this!’”

Azuma is already preparing for his senior season and is looking to lead the Tigers to success both on and off the court.