Nathan Kwon knows to never expect anything less than brutal honesty from Robert Lansdorp.
Since age nine, Kwon has regularly trekked more than two-and-a-half hours from Bakersfield to Palos Verdes to learn under the tutelage of Lansdorp, a legendary tennis coach who has overseen the development of Tracy Austin, Pete Sampras, Lindsay Davenport and Maria Sharapova among others.
Since the late 1960s, aspiring professionals from all over have come to learn under the guidance of Lansdorp, who isn't shy about letting players know when they don't measure up.
"He’s straight up kicked people off the court and literally told them to never come back," Kwon said.
But nine years after he began working with Lansdorp, Kwon has yet to be sent packing. And while he's hardly been easy on him, Lansdorp has given Kwon the confidence to take a major step in his career.
"He basically told me, ‘You could play college if you want, but if you want to take your game to the next level, I think you’re at the point to where I trust letting you go pro,'" Kwon said. "He basically said he wholeheartedly believed I could do it. And that was just a huge confidence booster.”
Kwon, a 2020 Stockdale High School graduate, is putting that confidence to good use, choosing to skip college and pursue a career in professional tennis.
While the coronavirus is limiting his playing options, Kwon is currently training six days a week with hopes of eventually rising up the ranks of the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and the Association of Tennis Professionals. Kwon is hoping to compete on ITF Futures and ATP Challenger Tours, where enough success could eventually land him on the pro circuit.
Kwon, who captured an SWYL singles championship in 2019, isn't a stranger to Futures events, having played in numerous tournaments throughout the U.S. and Mexico since the age of 14.
But now, the competition is about to get more cutthroat, and Kwon is adjusting his mindset accordingly.
"I wouldn’t say I treated (tennis) as a hobby, but it was something I did for fun," he said. "And I still have a lot of fun, but it’s a full-time job now. It’s a completely different mindset that I’ve had to kind of transition into and I feel like it made me grow up a lot.”
Lansdorp says Kwon, who hopes to add tournaments in Europe and Asia to his travel itinerary, will also have to prepare himself the mental grind of the road.
"(Travel tennis) is a nightmare compared to high school," Lansdorp said. "He has to decide 'That's what I want and I'm going to work my butt off and I'm going to make it happen.' It all has to come from him. He's made progress (but) he's not quite there yet."
Another obstacle Kwon is hoping to clear is the injury bug, which nipped at him numerous times in high school.
Kwon has dealt with nagging back and achilles injuries, and had to overcome a stress fracture in his left tibia that cost him most of his sophomore season.
He also had some bad fortune while playing in Cancun last summer, coming down with food poisoning early in the trip that rendered him ineffective for much of the tournament.
But after staying consistently healthy over the last two years, Kwon says he simply has to trust his body, as playing timid will allow his competition to gain the upper hand.
"It's not like I get a contract and this amount of money and if I get injured I still get paid," he said. "A couple tournaments here and there, one injury and you're out and there's no money for you."
Lansdorp believes that Kwon is likely two years away from realistically having a shot to reach the pro circuit, which is roughly the amount of time Kwon is giving himself to make it.
Having developing a passion for business, particularly economics, in high school, Kwon has aspirations to earn an MBA once his athletic career is over. Knowing his opportunities are limited, he's set a very specific timeline for success.
“I’m going to try and give myself two-and-a-half years, tops," he said. "Basically...if you’re not out of the minor leagues by then, it’s usually too late. If that happens, I know I’ll have to focus on something that’s more viable for me. This has been a longtime goal for me, but I need to be realistic.
"If it doesn’t happen in that time frame, I don’t want to keep wasting my time just doing something when I might not be able to physically do it for so long."