By Helen Elliot, Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES – If you haven’t heard of Brandon Nakashima, you soon will.
Not because the San Diego native climbed from No. 355 in the men’s world tennis rankings at the start of 2020 to a career-best No. 49 last week when he reached the third round at the French Open and followed that five- at Wimbledon last month. Lost to the unstable Nick Kyrgios in the 16th round.
Nakashima, who will turn 21 on August 3 and is now ranked 56th, is the fifth-youngest player in the men’s top 100. He has a superb backhand, strong court sense and a solid serve that accurately makes up for what power could be lacking in. Over the past week he had won 73.95 percentage points of his first serve in 2022, not far behind 21-time Grand Slam singles winner Novak Djokovic (74.54%) and world No. 1 Daniil Medvedev (76.38%).
Nakashima played in 2019 at the Northbay Healthcare Men’s Pro Championship, the most recent Challenger tournament in Fairfield. He remains a friend of the tournament’s president and local tennis coach Phil Celo.
“I think their strength is that they don’t really have any weaknesses,” said Gary Swain of WME/IMG Tennis, who has represented John McEnroe for 32 years and took on Nakashima as a client a few months ago “I think his next level will be to learn to play more aggressively and dictate more on the court.”
Nakashima is also cool. Mature. Thanks to the ethics instilled by his mother Christina, a native of Vietnam, and Wesley, a California father of Japanese heritage, he will probably never throw a racket. Both are pharmacists. He taught him the value of hard work and was not inclined to pay for wasted equipment or half-hearted efforts by him or his younger brother, Bryce.
“It’s fun working with someone who is so smart and responsible. Just solid in character as a person,” Swain said. “I think he’s a good role model. I hope he achieves his full potential as he can be great for the game.
As he prepares for his quarterfinal match on Friday at the Atlanta Open – his runner-up a year ago saw him break into the Top 100 for the first time – Nakashima has earned the respect earned by gritty and a face in the crowd of title-chasing youngsters. There is Rafael Nadal (22 Slam singles titles) and the graceful Roger Federer, who has 20 Slam event singles titles. To set himself apart from the crowd, Nakashima is refining his footwork and movement at the net. He’s also taking smart moves to stand out from the court.
Realizing that they would have to upgrade their coaching and support teams to cross the upper reaches of the rankings, Nakashima partnered with IMG to reach out to high-powered sponsors to help pay the bills. . Nakashima, who won academic and athletic honors in his one year at the University of Virginia, sees parallels between new choices of name, image, and likeness for college athletes and his strategy to define and capitalize on his image with a global audience.
“I think social media has really enabled young athletes to find their voices and values earlier in life, allowing us to more directly connect with companies and fans who want to support similar interests and values, ‘ he said via email. “I’m only starting to understand the broader implications of this. It’s about building a brand, and that’s attractive to me.”
Nakashima has deals with game-related companies Fila and Babolat, as well as Motorola and SentinelOne Cybersecurity, but he estimated his budget this year could reach $500,000. Their coaching team is led by Eduardo Infantino and will ideally include a trainer, physiotherapist, hitting partner and data analyst. He has earned $670,195 in 2022 according to the ATP tour. He pays the salaries and expenses of his team. “Everything: breakfast, lunch and dinner,” said Christina Nakashima, who accompanies her husband attending Brandon’s far-flung tournament. “It adds up quickly.”
They have a team of four. “And I still think I’m resource-constrained compared to top young professionals like Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinar,” he said of the world’s fifth and 10th-ranked players who have bigger teams.
“To achieve my tennis goal of reaching the top of the rankings, I have learned that it requires more than just hard work. I am now trying to act smart while investing in my team as if we were a startup company. Resources are out, and players who are able and willing to invest will have a competitive advantage. ,
Swain plans to capitalize on Nakashima’s multicultural background, his youth and his community involvement. In 2020, Nakashima led a shoe drive benefitting health care professionals in San Diego; A few months earlier, he flew home between the Italian and French Opens to attend a fundraiser for a friend and former junior rival, Evan Smith, who was paralyzed in an accident. “Their priorities are in order,” Christina Nakashima said.
Swain has another important marketing angle in mind. Referring to the Grand Slam event singles drought among American men that began after Andy Roddick won the US Open title in 2003, Swain said, “Everyone, including us, is looking for a top American men’s player again.”
“There are many good, young, male American players who clearly aspire to the same goals. But in men’s tennis, it’s a process and it takes a lot of work because it’s an extremely demanding physical and mental sport. These players Those who build a great team around them and who work hard on and off the court, they become very, very good, and the standard is very high.”
Nakashima is ready to go to work. He recently spent about 10 days training in Miami to acclimate himself to the tough courts and withstand the humidity and heat in Atlanta. He began working with Infantino ahead of the French Open and is buoyed by the quick, positive results there and at Wimbledon.
“We firmly believe that with the right training I can compete for a Grand Slam title within a year or two,” he said of himself and Infantino, who coached Juan Martín del Potro and other top five players. has done.
“My close match with Kyrgios at Wimbledon only reinforces our belief that we are on the right track.”
At the rate he’s leaving, you’ll know his name and his game pretty soon.