Brandon Nakashima survived a five-set thriller against Italy’s Matteo Arnaldi to earn an opening win on Tuesday in his return to the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals. In a battle of 21-year-olds in Milan, the American saved five set points to avoid going two sets down before prevailing 2-4, 4-3(7), 4-3(4), 3-4(4), 4-2.

In a back-and-forth contest in the Green Group, Nakashima let slip a 3-1 lead in the fourth set but regrouped to claim the fifth, closing out the victory in two hours and 10 minutes.

“It kind of took me a little while to get used to the new format, the new conditions out here,” Nakashima said post-match. “Right from the beginning it was a lot of critical points, the sets were going by fast, so I just tried to adapt as quick as possible. The tie-breaks, I was kind of lucky to squeeze them out and today I think it was just all about finding a way out here. He’s a super tough opponent, he was playing really well, and it was just some critical points in the end that helped me get over the line.”

A semi-finalist last year at the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals, Nakashima joins Lorenzo Musetti in bidding to become the first player to win the Milan title in his second appearance. The American peaked at No. 43 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings last month after winning his first ATP Tour title in his home city of San Diego.

It was Arnaldi — a native of Sanremo — who had the home advantage in Milan.

“It was tough,” Nakashima said of facing an opponent backed by the Italian crowd. “Either way, whoever the crowd’s cheering for, it’s always fun to play in front of them. The Italian fans, they get very electric during these events. I’m happy to be back here and play in front of them. It’s super exciting.”

While Arnaldi was the last man into the Milan field, the Italian proved he belonged with an aggressive display against Nakashima. There was no shortage of highlights from the classy Italian, particularly in the early stages as he made a bright start in search of his first tour-level win. Entering the showcase event at a career-high of No. 138 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, Arnaldi’s only previous tour-level match came in Rome earlier this season.

Both Nakashima and Arnaldi entertained the Milan crowd with aggressive tennis, combining for 69 winners (Arnaldi 36, Nakashima 33). Only two points separated the competitors overall, with Nakashima winning 98 to Arnaldi’s 96.

The American’s victory takes him to second in the Green Group, with Arnaldi now in third place following the narrow defeat. Nakashima will next face group-leader Jiri Lehecka on Wedneday, while Arnaldi meets fellow Italian Francesco Passaro.

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