In 'Game Of Inches', Nakashima Trying To Take Next Step
Last season was big for rising American Brandon Nakashima. The 20-year-old is hoping 2022 will be even bigger.
“Tennis as most people know is just a game of inches and anyone in the Top 100 can beat anyone on a given day. It’s just [about] taking care of the little things on the practice court, always trying to improve,” Nakashima told ATPTour.com. “I know my game is right there with all the top players. It’s just a matter of the little things, a few points here and there and taking all the experiences in.”
The #NextGenATP star has had plenty of those experiences early in his young career. Just a few weeks ago, Nakashima pushed eventual semi-finalist Matteo Berrettini in a tight four-setter at the Australian Open. In that match, he had set points to take a two-sets-to-one advantage.
The Californian learned plenty from a moment like that. He hopes to use those lessons moving forward as he continues his ascent on the ATP Tour.
“Playing at the big stadiums against the big players was a cool experience. Playing inside Louis Armstrong Stadium at the US Open and Margaret Court Arena in Australia this year, those are experiences that you can’t really get anywhere else,” Nakashima said. “I just try to take those in as much as possible and try to learn from it, too.”
One year ago, Nakashima had still not cracked the Top 100 in the ATP Rankings. He had only earned three tour-level wins. By the end of July he had reached two ATP Tour finals (Los Cabos, Atlanta) and in November he climbed to a career-high World No. 62.
“Last year was a great, great building year for me with the results and then obviously with my game and confidence knowing that I belong at the top and I have the game to play with the top guys,” Nakashima said. “This year it’s a matter of being consistent each week and being able to back up the good results this year to help with the ranking and the confidence.”
Part of that is building consistency. Nakashima admitted that not everything was perfect last year. During one stretch before the grass-court season, he went 6-11 at all levels.
“I learned you have to take every moment as it is and try to think positively on everything,” Nakashima said. “Overall, you have to keep improving your game and sticking with it.”
One of his biggest moments of the year came in November, when he competed in the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan alongside the best 21-and-under players in the world. During the offseason, Nakashima then took two weeks off. The first he spent at home with family in San Diego relaxing before they vacationed for a week in Florida.
“The tennis year is so long, and there may be some tough moments, so it’s [important] to take those off-court moments and try to make the most out of them,” Nakashima said. “[I enjoy] just hanging out with family and friends, spending time with them. Just going to new places that I’ve never seen before, trying new things. It always gives you a greater perspective in life.”
Nakashima also spent two weeks in Florida with former Top 10 star — and doubles World No. 1 — Emilio Sanchez Vicario. The American earlier in his career spent time working with Pat Cash. He also worked with Serbian Dusan Vemic for more than a year.
“You’ve always got to be open to trying new things. Sometimes hearing a new voice is good for the game and to get a second set of eyes from a top player and also a top coach, it’s always great,” Nakashima said. “You decide what to take from it, what to learn and try to learn and apply it to your game as best as possible.”
One of Nakashima’s biggest points of emphasis is to “get a little more physical out there” on the court.
“It’s building up my strength in the gym, getting a little stronger and quicker out there. Just keep improving the weapons as much as possible,” Nakashima said. “All the top players, their weapons are so big and they always have them in their back pocket, so I think just having those weapons and improving them, making them better and trying to improve overall are important.”
“I’m very excited about this year. There are going to be a lot more opportunities this year playing higher-level tournaments, playing more top players and I’m just trying to keep improving my game as much as possible,” Nakashima said. “[I am] trying to experience new things and take the best out of every possible situation.”