DELRAY BEACH, Fla.—Brandon Nakashima doesn't seem remotely fazed this week even though he's in completely uncharted territory. In his ATP debut, the 18-year-old has reached the quarterfinals, and he's fitting in perfectly thanks to a killer backhand and extreme mental toughness.
"There are so many things about Brandon that are good," his coach Beau Treyz told TENNIS.com. "Just the way he controls himself on the court mentally is amazing."
Nakashima hasn't dropped a set yet, beating Jiri Vesely and Cameron Norrie to set up a clash with Yoshihito Nishioka on Friday.
"It's a huge honor just to be here; just to play against all these top guys is really fun," Nakashima told TENNIS.com. But don't mistake his humility for awe; the teenager feels like he belongs here.
"From the juniors, I knew that I had the game to compete with all these top guys," the world No. 294 said. "It's just a matter of having the opportunities and getting some good matches under my belt and gaining some confidence."
Andrew Patron/BigShots Photo
An opportunity arrived this week in the form of a last-minute wild card. The call came so late that the latest addition to his team, Pat Cash, barely made it over in time to step in as a consultant, though he also lost his passport along the way.
What was Cash looking for to convince him to fly all the way from Brisbane to meet his new pupil?
"First of all, dedication, motivation," the Australian told TENNIS.com. "I want to see it, I want to hear it from other people. Is he willing to work? Is he willing to listen? That's important. And do you want to be as good as you can possibly can be?"
It sounds like Nakashima absolutely does.
"He does all that kind of little stuff that most guys get distracted by," Treyz said. "Whether it's wanting to go out or not really wanting to buy into whatever theory your coach is talking to you abut in that day; he always buys in and he engages with it."
Andrew Patron/BigShots Photo
Nakashima is fully engrossed in tennis, from sun up to sun down—except on Monday nights, when he and Treyz watch The Bachelor, or when any University of Virginia team is playing. He picked up a racquet at the age of three thanks to his grandfather Ahn.
"My grandfather just took me out to a local park and just started hand feeding me balls and I've been playing ever since," Nakashima said.
"He still calls him every night about the matches," Treyz said. "And he wants to know how his forehand is feeling, or his serve, so it's great."
Nakashima spent a semester at the University of Virginia before hitting the pro tour. The bold decision has been paying off quickly, as he just added his second M25K ITF title at the start 2020.
"Definitely it helped me gain a lot of confidence," Nakashima said. "It's always nice winning a title, no matter what level it is."
He won big titles on the ITF junior circuit with three in 2018, including the International Spring Championships in Carson, Calif., another Grade 1 on grass in Roehampton, and the ITF Junior Masters, which he calls his best junior moment. He reached as high as No. 3 and ended his junior career with a semifinal run at the US Open. After New York, he teamed up with Treyz and chose to forgo his final three years at UVA.
As good as his junior and college careers were, the teen has his eyes set on bigger prizes, even bigger than Delray.
"I know his aspirations are to win Slams and be a world No. 1," Trezy said. "For sure I see that in his future."