Player Features

The resurgence of Brandon Nakashima

American provides insight into his return to form
April 16, 2024
Brandon Nakashima has surged back into the Top 100 this year.
Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell
Brandon Nakashima has surged back into the Top 100 this year. By Andrew Eichenholz

Several Next Gen ATP Finals presented by PIF champions including Stefanos Tsitsipas, Jannik Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz have used the event as a springboard to stardom. Those three players have cracked the Top 3 in the PIF ATP Rankings and Alcaraz reached World No. 1.

Brandon Nakashima, the 2022 champion, has not soared quite as high. But the American, who began his season as World No. 134, is up to No. 79 in the PIF ATP Live Rankings after a 26-9 start to the year at all levels. On Tuesday, he showed he is plenty capable of competing with the very best in the world when he upset second seed Andrey Rublev 6-4, 7-6(6) in the second round of the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell.

“I've learned it's not always good times as a professional tennis player, as maybe some of the outside people see. There are definitely some tough times for all players at any level,” Nakashima told last month. “It's a matter of getting through those tough times in order to keep having those opportunities at the biggest level. I think that's the biggest thing I've learned through this.

“The good times are not always as good as you think and the bad times are not always as bad as you think.”

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All seemed to be going according to plan in November 2022 when Nakashima, then inside the Top 50, triumphed in Milan without losing a match. Among the players he defeated were Jiri Lehecka (twice), Jack Draper and Matteo Arnaldi.

The American earlier in the year had won his first ATP Tour title in San Diego, advanced to the fourth round at Wimbledon and ousted Grigor Dimitrov en route to the third round of the US Open.

But in 2023, Nakashima, one year on from earning a 35-23 tour-level record, went 13-20. His best result came in Lyon, where he reached the semi-finals.

“It's not easy. You lose a few matches, your confidence goes down, and then you start to kind of question everything with your game and with your life as well. So even with a person like me who is kind of calm, and always mentally strong out there, it was difficult at times,” Nakashima said. “It was super great that I was able to have the support team that I have, with my family and my coaches, to keep me positive and keep me working hard to build my ranking back up.”

According to the American, the toughest part of his year was the North American hard-court swing. Typically a standout swing of his season, Nakashima did not make a quarter-final in six events and lost in the first round of the US Open.

“I'm sure like most other players, after a tough loss or string of tournaments where you're losing first round, you start to get in your head a little bit. I think, for me, it was after the U.S. swing and not having the matches that I would have wanted,” Nakashima said. “You see the ranking going down, little by little, [and that] was, I think, a tough moment for me, but it shows the character, the mental capacity that I had to turn it around and keep working hard, even when times get tough.”

Nakashima dropped down to the ATP Challenger Tour to close 2023 and begin 2024. That paid dividends as he won 11 of his first 12 Challenger matches of the year.

“It was definitely a new experience for me, being at all the ATP tournaments, and then having to go back to play some of the Challengers. It’s never, never easy with playing those players. All those players are super tough and compared to the ATP level, there's not much difference,” Nakashima said. “You have some small cities over there and you are kind of alone by yourself with the coaches most of the time. But you just have to keep your head down, stay mentally strong, and fight through those moments to be able to have these opportunities to play ATP tournaments.”

One of the keys of Nakashima’s turnaround has been a renewed confidence. He has won at least one match at every tournament he has played this year with the exception of Australian Open qualifying, where the American fell to #NextGenATP Jakub Mensik, who reached the main draw and advanced to the second round of the main draw, in which he pushed Hubert Hurkacz to five sets.

“The confidence level is a lot higher right now,” Nakashima said before discussing his Challenger success. “It helped my confidence a lot knowing that my game is going back in the right direction, and also my ranking as well to get back to play with these top guys.”

Now Nakashima is back at the highest level of the sport and judging by his effort in Barcelona, where he has defeated Daniel Evans and Rublev, the 22-year-old is still on the rise.

“It's always nice to have that journey back up to the top,” Nakashima said. “Obviously, it's not what you want, to be back down at that [Challenger] level. But to get all those wins and have that rise back into the Top 100, having that confidence to be able to play these ATP tournaments, it's a good feeling to have.”

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