Last season, Brandon Nakashima made his mark at the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals. The 21-year-old earned round-robin stage victories against Juan Manuel Cerundolo and Holger Rune before he lost to Sebastian Korda in a five-set semi-final thriller.
Twelve months on and the American is excited to be back in Milan where he is aiming to take the next step and triumph at the 21-and-under event.
“I had such great memories in Milan last year,” Nakashima told ATPTour.com. “I think the ATP and the tournament director do such a great job there. The atmosphere with the fans and everything is super nice, super cool. It’s always nice to just play a fun, competitive tournament with people your age. I think it’s going to be another great tournament this year.
“Last year I played Korda and that match was super exciting, [against a] fellow American. I think all these [young] guys have such great games and such unique games that bring different aspects to tennis that makes it so cool.”
After gaining a taste for Milan and the vocal Italian fans last year, Nakashima was determined to qualify again in 2022, making it a priority at the start of the season.
“All the young players coming up, being able to qualify for the Next Gen Finals means that you had such a great year and produced some good results,” Nakashima said. “I think qualifying for that is such a good achievement, especially for young players, to be able to get that exposure at a young age, playing such a high-level tournament is very important.
“The Italian fans are super cool, they are super electric out there. Playing in an indoor stadium with a full crowd is something super special and they really support all the young players out there. I think it’s really cool to see that.”
Nakashima entered 2022 off the back of a strong second half to the 2021 season. The American reached two ATP Tour finals (Los Cabos, Atlanta) last July and by November climbed to No. 62 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings.
The 21-year-old, who enjoys playing golf and watching football, has continued to build this year, winning his maiden tour-level title in San Diego. Nakashima is proud of how he has handled his second season on Tour.
“I’m very happy with my performance this year,” Nakashima said. “For me, looking at the wins or loss columns doesn’t matter too much. It’s a matter of developing my game and trying to keep improving every day. Coming to these big tournaments and having these experiences is only going to further my experience and make me more confident out here.
“I was always expecting it was going to be a tough year. [The] second year on Tour, a lot of people get familiar with you, with your game a little bit more. You’re not such a surprise to many people as you were your first year. I think I’ve handled it pretty well with the expectations and everything. I try not to think about it too much on my side, just focus on what I can do out there.”
Alongside his title triumph in San Diego, Nakashima performed well at Roland Garros and Wimbledon. He pushed Alexander Zverev hard in the third round in Paris, before he reached the fourth round on the lawns in London.
“That match [against Zverev], I definitely gained a lot of confidence from,” Nakashima said. “Leading up to Roland Garros, I wasn’t winning too many matches on clay and then winning the first few rounds of Roland Garros was super big for my game and confidence. Having that great match with Zverev in the third round, I definitely took a lot from that match, learned a lot. I think it definitely helped me for the next couple weeks.
“I kind of always knew that my game was good for grass. A lot of my coaches always said I could do really well on grass. Leading up to Wimbledon, I had some good matches, good practices, and Wimbledon was such a great experience. It was such a great run for me that I definitely took a lot of confidence from it.”
Holding a 30-22 tour-level record on the season, Nakashima will look to use his experience and become the fifth champion at the 21-and-under event.