John Nelson has taken the University of Hawai‘i men’s tennis team to new heights, now in his ninth season as head coach. After years of building the program with top-flight recruits and instilling a winning attitude in his players, the program has reaped the benefits with three Western Athletic Conference titles in the last four seasons, which included four NCAA Tournament appearances
In 2008 the team made an improbable run for the school’s first-ever WAC Championship, upsetting No. 32, first-seeded and three-time reigning champion Boise State, in the semifinals, and clinching the title with a win over second-seeded and No. 49 Fresno State in the finals. The Warriors gave a valiant effort before falling to No. 13 Pepperdine NCAA tournament first round and concluded the season winning six of its final seven matches. For his efforts, Nelson earned a much-deserved 2008 WAC Coach of the Year award.
It was another banner year in 2009 for the Rainbow Warriors who made it to their second straight NCAA Tournament. UH took down a pair of Top 20 teams, defeating Boise State in the WAC Tournament finals, then picking up the program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament win with a 4-3 first-round decision over Oklahoma State. By season’s end UH climbed to No. 41 in the final ITA rankings, a program high.
In nine years at UH, Nelson has compiled a 69-89 mark, a record not indicative of the strides the program has made during those years. Nelson has recruited top-flight players in recent years and has nurtured their development, challenging them with the best competition the nation has to offer. In the 2007 season, he helped qualify junior Andreas Weber into the NCAA Division I Men’s Tennis Singles Championships. Weber, along with Sascha Heinemann and Dennis Lajola were part of a string of three straight Rainbow Warriors to be named WAC Freshman of the Year.
Nelson previously served as head coach at San Diego State. In 10 seasons, he compiled a 129-108 record with the Aztecs. During the 2002-03 season he guided SDSU to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. That appearance marked the fifth time in the past six years that the Aztecs went to the NCAA Tournament, including a showing in the round of 16 in 2000.
In 2002, the Aztecs won its third consecutive Mountain West Conference regular-season title and second-straight league tournament championship after posting a 17-11 record. He was named the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Region VII Coach of the Year in 2000, ‘02 and ‘03 as well as MWC Coach of the Year in 2002.
At SDSU, Nelson coached Alexander Waske, the 2000 Region VIII and MWC Player of the Year. Earlier this year, Waske teamed with Jurgen Melzer of Austria to advance to the Australian Open doubles semifinals. In singles, Waske also snapped world nationally ranked Rafael Nadal’s 24-match win streak at the Gerry Weber Open.
Prior to SDSU, Nelson served as head coach at UC Davis from 1988-94, where his team won an NCAA Division II team title in 1992. In each of his five seasons at UCD, Nelson’s teams were ranked in the Top 5 nationally. Nelson coached one singles player and three sets of doubles teams to national championships.
From 1983-88, Nelson coached at Cal State Hayward where he guided the Pioneers to a Top 10 national ranking in every year he served. In 11 seasons from 1983-94, Nelson earned eight Northern California Athletic Conference Coach of the Year awards, four regional coach of the year awards, and in 1992, was named the NCAA Division II National Coach of the Year all without any athletic scholarships.
Nelson’s overall NCAA record is 359-242 in 27 seasons. At each school he served prior to UH, Nelson coached either a singles or doubles individual NCAA champion and has tutored eight Division I and 22 Division II All-Americans.
As a player, Nelson started his collegiate tennis career at Canada College in Redwood City, Calif., where he earned an Associate of Arts degree in physical education. He later went on to become an NCAA Division II All-American in 1978 at Cal State Hayward, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education that same year. During his years at CSUH, Nelson was named to the NCAA All Star team that played Mexico in Mexico City. In 1979, Nelson was awarded a Master’s in Education from Stanford.Professionally, Nelson has played tennis in Europe and at the North California Men’s Open where he was he ranked sixth in doubles with his twin brother, Jeff.
He is a member of U.S. Professional Tennis Association, U.S. Tennis Association, and the Board of Directors for the Intercollegiate Tennis Association.
Nelson is a third degree black belt in jujitsu and uses martial art skills in his coaching. Nelson resides in Honolulu with his wife, Carol.