Miami Feature Story: Henrique Tsukamoto
by Mikayla Vielot. To some he seems shy, but others know better. Decked out from head to toe in Miami Hurricanes apparel, Henrique Tsukamoto is all smiles and welcoming. Tan, five-foot-nine-inches, dark hair and muscular, Tsuka, as his friends call him, is the newest addition to the University of Miami’s men’s tennis team. The Sao Paulo, Brazil, native touched down in sunny, South Florida just three months ago and has already been an asset on the courts.
Tsukamoto lived in the small town of Vinhedo, Sao Paulo, his entire life before packing his bags and moving to Coral Gables.
“It’s calm but you also have all of the things that a big town offers. If you want to buy something, go to concerts, or anything like that, it’s really close,” Tsuka said.
While Tsukamoto was born and raised in Brazil, his parents, Tatsuo and Keiko, are both of Japanese descent. Tsukamoto is the youngest of three children. He has two older sisters, Natalia, 27, and Vivan, 25, whom he has always had a strong relationship with. His parents taught them the importance of respect and hard work ethic.
“It was always be concentrated, practice right, do things right, do good in school and have good grades,” he said.
Under his parents’ influence, Tsukamoto began playing sports as a child. At four years old, the toddler began toting around a racket bigger than him. He toyed around with soccer before deciding to play competitive tennis at age 12.
The German-based engineering company, Bosch, is located near Tsukamoto’s hometown and enhanced the population in that area. Tsukamoto attended a German private school before making the switch to and American high school. Tennis practice took priority and consumed his day, leaving his evenings for studying and class.
Miami Tennis Coach Mario Rincon was determined to recruit Tsukamoto and decided to do something a little out of the ordinary. He flew Tsukamoto to Miami on an official visit but he knew it would be worth it.
“We knew he was a special player, a really nice kid who would contribute right away. He had an excellent resume and we did talk to a bunch of coaches who knew him,” Rincon said.
While in Miami, Rincon and the rest of the tennis team took Tsukamoto to the September 17th victory over The Ohio State football team. That short weekend allowed him to bond with the rest of the team and form a relationship with his future coach.
“I realized he’s a very talented player and a hard worker. He’s a team player and would be a great Miami player. I admire a lot of these qualities that he has,” Rincon said.
After Miami, Tsukamoto visited universities in Wisconsin, Texas and Tulsa. In the end, palm trees and highs in the mid ‘80s won him over. Miami’s similar weather to back home was not something he was willing to pass on.
Now donning orange and green, Tsukamoto is a jokester and the little brother of the team. In the short amount of time that he has been here, he has grown very close with all of his teammates.
Junior Victor Mauz has bonded with him over their love for playing the guitar.
“That’s something we share. We only have one guitar here because he didn’t bring one, but we plan on buying one next semester,” Mauz said. “We both like acoustic rock.”
Their team bonding outside of daily 6:30 a.m. practices has helped them on the court. Tsukamoto brings the energy needed to cheer on his teammates when it matters most.
“He’s the kind of guy who is pumped up all of the time. He fight’s really hard on the court. I feel like with everything he does, he gives 100 percent. When he has a test, he studies a lot. When he comes to practice, he gives 100 percent,” Mauz said.
Tsukamoto’s hard work does not go unnoticed. His teammates and Coach Rincon have acknowledged his talent and have already seen improvement from him.
The first time away from home for anyone is hard enough but to be a freshman in college in a completely different country takes some adjusting. Tsukamoto will not be able to see his family until the summer but Skype has made keeping in contact very easy. Tsukamoto video chats with his family once a week and Coach Rincon updates Henrique’s parents on his progress.
“You miss some things, but when you’re here, you make new friends and learn to live a little more. When I came here I looked at it as the beginning to a new part of my life. I miss my friends but I’m really happy here,” Tsukamoto said.