2022 was a career year for young American Brandon Nakashima as the former University of Virginia Cavalier spent his first full season playing at the tour level. He started the season ranked No. 68 in the world and had an early drop into the 80’s before reaching a career-high ranking of World No. 43 in October. Nakashima saw tangible improvements in his game throughout the 2022 season. Let’s dive into his season and what to expect from the 21-year-old going forward.
Nakashima’s slow start to the 2022 season
Brandon Nakashima had a somewhat inauspicious start to the 2022 season. Through the three-month, early hard court season, he held a 6-8 record with no real wins of note. His performances, however, even in losses, showed progress. Nakashima had some early season battles with some of the world’s best, including a First Round encounter at the Australian Open with Matteo Berrettini. The American won the first set of that match before Berrettini rallied for a 4-6 6-2 7-6(5) 6-3 victory.
Transitioning to the clay was never going to be easy for Nakashima. He has spent very little time on the surface through the early part of his career, which became apparent during the European swing. Nakashima started the clay season with one win in three events. That said, he showed a keen ability to adapt to the conditions and seemed to grow comfortable with his game on the dirt in May. Nakashima won two qualifying matches in Rome and reached the Third Round at Roland Garros with victories over Kamil Majchrzak and Tallon Griekspoor to end his clay-court season, having won four of his last six matches. Despite falling to Alexander Zverev at the French Open, he did force the German into two tiebreaks and seemingly took a lot of solace in how he ended his first tour-level clay season.
Nakashima finds summer success
No one knew what to expect from the young Nakashima on grass. He had played in three grass tournaments before this season, with only one tour-level main draw appearance under his belt. It quickly became apparent that Nakashima had a strong proclivity to the surface. He won at least two matches in all four tournaments he competed in, including a run to the Wimbledon Round of 16. He took down No. 13 seed Denis Shapovalov in Round Two in London before falling to eventual runner-up Nick Kyrgios in a back-and-forth five-set battle. Nakashima finished the 2022 grass season with a 10-4 record.
Nakashima translated his newfound success on the grass to his home soil. During six North American hard court tournaments, Nakashima amassed 11 wins and just five losses. He made a Third Round appearance at the US Open, quarterfinal runs in Atlanta and Los Cabos, and a first career tour-level title in San Diego. Despite winning just one match against a top 50 player during this run, Nakashima proved his consistency by handling players he was favored against. It was a big sign of growth and had to be a wonderful feeling to cap off the swing with a title in his hometown of San Diego.
“It feels like a dream out here,” Nakashima said post-match defeating compatriot Marcos Giron for the San Diego Open title. “My first ATP title in my hometown. To be able to capture my first title here, it’s unbelievable.”
The American ended his season in Turin for the ATP NextGen Finals. He won all five matches, dropping just three sets en route to the title. The last three NextGen Finals winners (Carlos Alcaraz, Jannik Sinner, Stefanos Tsitsipas) all went on to find significant tour-level success the following season. What’s in store for Nakashima in 2023?
What’s next for Nakashima?
Nakashima will start the 2023 season as the No. 47 ranked player in the World. Because he is set to be unseeded at the Australian Open, success at that event will come down to the luck of the draw. In February, expect the American to make some noise in Dallas, Delray Beach, and Acapulco. He is not defending many points from these events, which gives him an excellent opportunity to bump himself up in the rankings.
Towards the back half of the 2022 season, Nakashima consistently handled players ranked lower than him. The next step in his progress will be to find match wins against those ranked higher than him. Nakashima is 0-10 in his career against top 15 players. He is 10-27 against players ranked in the top 40. These records are bound to improve with experience, and are something I believe Nakashima will improve on in 2023.
Nakashima’s serve improved mightily as the 2022 season progressed. This is one of the main reasons he saw so much success from June through November. Since his days at the University of Virginia, Nakashima has been praised for his play from the baseline. If he continues to add variety to his game and consistency with his serve, the 21-year-old American will continue to rise the ranks on the ATP Tour.
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