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Armed with first ATP title, Brandon Nakashima plots Next Gen Finals return after breakthrough season
The 21-year-old American is set to make a long-awaited trip to Tokyo after securing a win at his home tournament in San Diego.
Published Oct 01, 2022
WATCH: Nakashima dropped just one set en route to his first ATP title in San Diego last week.
“Not too many people know that I do like to joke around a lot,” Brandon Nakashima deadpans at the end of our interview.
Indeed, the admission was news to me after 15 minutes on the phone with a deeply serious 21-year-old, one who was only 48 hours removed from his first ATP title in San Diego.
“I think American tennis is in a great spot right now, and is continually improving,” he explained earlier, having beaten countryman and fellow California native Marcos Giron in the San Diego Open final on Sunday. “You have all these guys ranked in the Top 100 that have such unique styles in their games. I think all of them can make a big run or a big impact in our sport, for sure. It’s nice to see the fellow Americans doing well. We sort of build off each other, and obviously we all have pretty good relationships, as well.”
He did briefly break at the thought of a group thread between himself, US Open semifinalist Frances Tiafoe, and BNP Paribas Open champion Taylor Fritz.
“There’s not a group text,” chuckles the newly-minted world No. 48, “but I did get a lot of good messages from other players and other friends after I won the title.”
For Nakashima, such milestones are merely steps towards his ultimate goal of regularly competing with the game’s best. Though he made back-to-back ATP finals last July, his first true taste of that elite came this summer when he upset No. 13 seed Denis Shapovalov en route to the second week of Wimbledon.
Once there, he pushed eventual finalist Nick Kyrgios to five sets on Centre Court.
“I think making the second week of Wimbledon was a big confidence booster for me,” he said. “Then I could go into the U.S. tournaments on hard courts, going in there with a lot of confidence and knowing I was playing a lot of good tennis and that I can make some big results.”
A big result was in sight at the US Open, where he scored a straight-set victory over former world No. 3 Grigor Dimitrov, but he endured a narrow loss to Jannik Sinner after winning the first set on Louis Armstrong Stadium.
Rebounding on his home court, he opted for his patented serious approach, eschewing more familiar accommodations and staying instead at the tournament hotel. With crowds nonetheless full of friends and family, Nakashima rolled through the San Diego draw and dispatched Giron, 6-4, 6-4 to avenge his two prior runner-up finishes and achieve one of his biggest goals of the season.
“Those first two finals definitely taught me a lot, where I was trying to stay focused the night before and the day of, not getting too caught up in all of the situations, talking to a lot of people. There were obviously nerves as well, which is to be expected any time you’re playing a final, but I think I handled it pretty well. It helped to have been in the situation before.
“Now that I’ve achieved that goal and the ranking’s slowly climbing up, it’s just a matter of improving every day and taking these experiences as they come and try to learn from all of them.”
I think American tennis is in a great spot right now, and is continually improving. You have all these guys ranked in the Top 100 that have such unique styles in their games. I think all of them can make a big run or a big impact in our sport, for sure. It’s nice to see the fellow Americans doing well. We sort of build off each other, and obviously we all have pretty good relationships, as well. Brandon Nakashima
Another milestone is just around the corner as Nakashima is set to make his debut in Tokyo, which may yet feel like another home tournament for the Japanese-American.
“I was born here in the U.S. and my dad was, too, but just to be able to learn more about the Japanese culture and more about where my relatives came from will be super cool. I’ve heard so many great things about Tokyo, so it’s always been one of the places I’ve wanted to visit.
“I’m looking forward to walking around the city and enjoying the atmosphere, and trying the food there, as well. I’m sure it’s pretty amazing. I’m sure all the Japanese fans will play a big part in making the tournament special.”
A packed fall swing will put the youngster in pole position to nab a seeding at next year’s Australian Open, but before he heads to Melbourne, Nakashima will likely have a chance to end his 2022 season on a high at the Next Gen ATP Finals.
With previous champions like Stefanos Tsitsipas, Jannik Sinner, and Carlos Alcaraz, there will be plenty of motivation for the American to better his semifinal result from last year.
“If any player is able to qualify, it means they’ve had a great, consistent year with a lot of success. To be able to qualify there for a second time would be super special for me. I had such a great time last year, such a cool experience. I think the tournament is really well-run and good for tennis to learn about the young, up-and-coming guys. I’d be super excited to be able to play there again.”
As seriously as Nakashima presents, there’s still flashes that the former UVA standout understands the surreal path he’s on. As he prepares face down far steeper challenges, memories like a first title in front of friends and family will be what makes it all worth it.
“It’s not too often that you get to experience something like that during the year, and winning my first title at home with all of them watching was super special. I couldn’t think of a better place to do it.”