Nakashima: ‘I Want To Show That I Belong With The Top Guys’
From the moment that Brandon Nakashima made his ATP Tour debut last year, everyone in tennis knew that he was destined for big things. On Monday, the teen cracked the Top 100 in the FedEx ATP Rankings for the first time at World No. 89 after reaching his second tour-level final in as many weeks Atlanta.
This accomplishment was a long time coming for Nakashima, who reached the quarter-finals in his first ATP Tour event without dropping a set last year in Delray Beach. But more than his wins over the likes of Cameron Norrie and John Isner, Nakashima has impressed with his rock-solid mentality and composure.
Calm on the court and collected under pressure, the 19-year-old is continuing his steady climb up the FedEx ATP Rankings as he notches a major milestone. After a head-turning two weeks, Nakashima reached his first tour-level final at the Mifel Open in Los Cabos (l. to Norrie) and then backed it up immediately with another final at the Truist Atlanta Open (l. to Isner).
As a result, Nakashima jumped up 45 spots in the past two weeks to become the youngest American in the Top 100.
“It feels pretty good, for me it’s quite an accomplishment,” Nakashima told ATPTour.com. “For me, it shows that I’m heading in the right direction after a slow clay-court and grass-court season. It gives me a lot of confidence coming into this hard-court swing. I’m looking to just build off of it and keep improving and keep getting better.”
Born in California to parents of Japanese and Vietnamese heritage, Nakashima started playing tennis at three. His talent quickly shone through, on and off the court. Nakashima became the world's No. 3-ranked junior and enrolled in college early. He played for University of Virginia as a 17-year-old and was named 2019 ACC Freshman of the Year.
But it wasn’t long before Nakashima had his sights set on even bigger feats and he turned pro later that year. He spent the 2020 season improving his game, and built on his successful Delray Beach debut. He pushed eventual finalist Alexander Zverev to four sets in the second round of his first US Open main draw, after spending a week training with Novak Djokovic.
“I think more than anything, it’s my mental game,” Nakashima said, reflecting on his biggest improvement in 2021. “It hasn’t been easy, especially after having that slow clay-court swing, not winning too many matches in Europe, and then having to come over to the hard courts and try to gain some momentum and show that I belong with these guys and that I can play on the ATP Tour.
“That has been the biggest thing for me, especially for my confidence. And then also the minor things, like the technique and my footwork on the court I think has definitely improved from last year.”
Nakashima, who started the 2020 season ranked No. 364, is now the fourth teenager to feature inside the ATP’s Top 100, following #NextGenATP rivals Carlos Alcaraz (18), Jannik Sinner (19) and Lorenzo Musetti (19).
He’s also jumped three positions to put himself firmly in contention in the ATP Race To Milan for a spot at the Next Gen ATP Finals. Nakashima sits in sixth place, 238 points behind Alcaraz, and the American is determined to continue closing the gap on his peers.
“It’s definitely a goal of mine to make it to Milan for the Next Gen Finals at the end of the year. It would show that I’ve had a solid and consistent year,” Nakashima said. “The main goal for me is to win some of these ATP events and just keep building on the ranking. But it would really be nice to qualify for that at the end of the year and just give my best against those other top young players too.”
To get there, Nakashima won’t be resting on his laurels as he continues to measure his game against the world’s best and prove his mettle on the game’s biggest stages. The 19-year-old is set to make his Citi Open debut this week, and faces Alexei Popyrin in the first round in Washington, D.C.
“There are a lot of things that I’ve realised that I need to improve and get better,” Nakashima said. “For example, my fitness definitely has to improve if I want to go deeper into these tournaments playing against the top pros. Having to play each day and always bring out my best tennis is tough sometimes, but I try to look at it like I’m putting in all the hard work on the practice courts and now it’s paying off.
“There’s still a lot to improve on, but it’s been a good building week for me.”