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National

Brandon Nakashima, 19, continues to build on breakout 2020 season

Arthur Kapetanakis | May 06, 2021

May is Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. To celebrate, USTA.com is taking a look at Asian-Americans past, present and future—those who have helped to shape the game, and those who could soon cement their place in it.

 

Brandon Nakashima burst onto the professional scene in 2020, reaching the Delray Beach Open quarterfinals in his first ATP main-draw appearance by notching two Top-100 victories. Following the pandemic suspension, the San Diego native made the most of a US Open wild card by defeating Italy's Paolo Lorenzi in straight sets. He then took the opener against eventual finalist Alexander Zverev in Round 2, before falling in four competitive sets. 

 

After closing out the 2020 season with the biggest title of his career—at the Orlando Open, a USTA Pro Circuit and ATP Challenger event—Nakashima started strong in 2021 by winning a second Challenger title in Quimper, France. The youngster is now ranked inside the ATP's Top 150, less than 18 months after starting 2020 outside the Top 350.

 

Here's more on the former University of Virginia standout.

 

The Brandon Nakashima File

Age: 19
Birthplace: San Diego
Current Rank: No. 135
Career-High Rank: No. 133 (February 2021)
Best US Open Finish: Round 2 (2020)

Nakashima at the 2020 US Open, where he reached Round 2.

The Baseline

 

- In a decorated junior career, Nakashima reached a high of world No. 3 in the ITF boys' rankings. Prior to closing out his junior career with a semifinal run at the 2019 US Open, he won the prestigious ITF Junior Masters—the junior equivalent of the ATP and WTA Finals—in 2018 in Chengdu, China.

 

- After graduating high school a semester early, Nakashima enrolled at the University of Virginia in January 2019 and competed for the Cavaliers during the spring season. He was named ACC Freshman of the Year and finished the year 17-5 in singles play and 20-3 in doubles. A perfect 3-0 singles mark in the NCAA Championships helped UVA reach the quarterfinals at the USTA National Campus, where they fell to defending champions Wake Forest. In December 2019, Nakashima officially turned pro.

 

- A title at the USTA Pro Circuit M25 event in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., kicked off 2020, with victories over Emilio Nava and Ulises Blanch paving the way to what was his second career Futures crown (he won his first in 2018, in Laguna Niguel, Calif.). But Nakashima's run at the ATP 250 Delray Beach Open is what truly put him on the map at the pro level. He took out Jiri Vesely (then ranked No. 74) and Cameron Norrie (No. 60), both in straight sets, before falling in three quarterfinal sets to Japan's Yoshihito Nishioka. In reaching the last eight, Nakashima became the youngest Delray quarterfinalist since Kei Nishikori won the event in 2008.

 

- Following the COVID suspension, Nakashima got back in the game by playing World TeamTennis, where he notched wins over Jack Sock and Tennys Sandgren to help lead the Chicago Smash to the WTT final.

- Nakashima had the ultimate preparation for the 2020 US Open, as he trained with world No. 1 Novak Djokovic for a week in the buildup.  “It was great hitting with him, getting all his experience on the court and [seeing] how well he hits the ball," Nakashima said. "We got closer after a couple of days of hitting, and I was able to ask him stuff and learn from him.’’ The pair have linked recently linked up again for some clay-court hitting sessions (as pictured). Nakashima's coach, Dusan Vemic, previously worked with the Serb. 

 

- Drawing Aslan Karatsev in the first round of 2021 Australian Open qualifying, Nakashima took a tiebreak set off the Russian before losing in three. Karatsev would go on to win his next 13 sets in a row en route to a shock semifinal appearance, with Djokovic finally getting the better of him.

 

They Said It!

 

- "Ever since I started playing, I've always wanted to play tennis at the highest level and eventually become No. 1 in the world." 

— Nakashima told ATPTour.com in November, after winning the Orlando Open

 

- "My personality is to stay calm out there in crucial situations. I think I play better when there is more pressure. I think I was born with that. It is great to have that when I am in tough matches. I think I am able to rise to occasions and to handle tense moments.”

— Nakashima told Tennis.com in a December interview

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