Rising tennis star Brandon Nakashima amplifies his brand

By Helene Elliott, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — If you haven’t heard of Brandon Nakashima, you soon will.

Not because the San Diego native fell from No. 355 in the men’s world tennis rankings at the start of 2020 to No. 49 last week after reaching the third round of Roland Garros and followed that up with a five-loss. against the volatile Nick Kyrgios in the round of 16 at Wimbledon last month.

Nakashima, who turns 21 on August 3 and is now ranked No. 56, is the fifth youngest player in the men’s top 100. He has a terrific backhand, a keen sense of the court and a solid serve that precisely compensates for what he might lack in power. Over the past week he has won 73.95% of his first-serve points in 2022, not far behind 21-time Grand Slam singles winner Novak Djokovic (74.54%) and world No. 1 Daniil Medvedev (76.38%).

Nakashima participated in the last Challenger tournament at Fairfield in 2019, the NorthBay Healthcare Men’s Pro Championship. He remains a friend of tournament chairman and legendary local tennis instructor Phil Cello.

“I think his strength is he doesn’t really have any weaknesses,” said WME/IMG Tennis’ Gary Swain, who has represented John McEnroe for 32 years and took on Nakashima as a client a few months ago. “I think his next level is going to be learning to play more aggressively and dictate more on the pitch.”

Nakashima is also quiet. Mature. He will probably never throw a racquet, thanks to the ethics instilled by his mother Christina, originally from Vietnam, and his father Wesley, a Californian of Japanese descent. Both are pharmacists. They taught him the value of hard work and were unwilling to pay for destroyed equipment or half-hearted efforts on his part or that of his younger brother Bryce.

“It’s fun to work with someone so smart and responsible. Just strong character as an individual,” Swain said. “I think he’s a good role model. I hope he realizes his full potential because he can be great for the game.”

As he prepares for his quarterfinal match on Friday at the Atlanta Open – his runner-up finish a year ago propelled him into the top 100 for the first time – Nakashima is a face in the crowd young people in search of esteem and titles won by the gritty Rafael Nadal (22 Slam singles titles) and the graceful Roger Federer, who has 20 Slam singles titles. Nakashima hones his footwork and his movement towards the net to separate himself from this crowd. He also takes smart steps to stand out from the field.

Realizing he needed to upgrade his coaching and support teams to reach the tops of the leaderboards, Nakashima teamed up with IMG to reach out to high-powered sponsors to help pay the bills. Nakashima, who won academic and athletic accolades during his freshman year at the University of Virginia, sees similarities between college athletes’ new options for marketing their name, image and likeness and his strategy for defining and capitalizing on its image to a global audience.

“I think social media has really empowered young athletes to find their voices and values ​​earlier in life, allowing us to connect more directly with businesses and fans who want to support similar interests and values,” he said via email. “I’m only beginning to understand the vast implications of this. It’s about creating a brand, and that’s fascinating to me.

Nakashima has struck deals with sports-related companies Fila and Babolat, as well as cybersecurity Motorola and SentinelOne, but he estimated his budget this year could be as high as $500,000. Its coaching staff is led by Eduardo Infantino and would ideally include coaches, physiotherapists, strike partners and data analysts, among others. According to the ATP Tour, he earned $670,195 in 2022. He pays the salaries and expenses of those around him. “Everything: breakfast, lunch and dinner,” said Christina Nakashima, who takes turns attending the Faraway Brandon tournaments with her husband. “It adds up quickly.”

He has a team of four. “And I still think my resources are limited compared to top young pros like Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner,” he said of the fifth- and tenth-ranked players in the world, who have huge squads.

“To achieve my tennis goal of reaching the top of the leaderboard, I learned that it takes more than hard work. I now try to work smart while investing in my team as if we were a startup. The resources are there, and players who are able and willing to invest will have a competitive advantage.

Swain plans to capitalize on Nakashima’s multicultural background, youth, and community involvement. In 2020, Nakashima led a shoe drive that benefited healthcare professionals in San Diego; a few months ago, he returned home between Italy and the French Open to participate in a fundraiser for a friend and former junior opponent, Ivan Smith, who had been paralyzed in an accident. “He has his priorities in order,” said Christina Nakashima.

Swain has another key marketing angle in mind. “Everyone, including us, is looking for a top American men’s player again,” Swain said, referring to a Grand Slam singles drought among American men that began after Andy Roddick won the US Open title in 2003.

“There are a number of good young male American players who obviously aspire to the same goals, but in men’s tennis it’s a process and it takes a lot of hard work because it’s an extremely physically and mentally demanding sport. These players who build a great team around them and who work hard on and off the pitch become very, very good, and the standard is extremely high.

Nakashima is ready to get to work. He recently spent about 10 days training in Miami to acclimatize to the hard courts and the humidity and heat he will likely face in Atlanta. He started working with Infantino before Roland-Garros and is encouraged by the quick and positive results there and at Wimbledon.

“We strongly believe that with the right training, I can compete for Grand Slam titles in a year or two,” he said of himself and Infantino, who coached Juan Martin del Potro and other top five players.

“My close match with Kyrgios at Wimbledon only reinforces our belief that we are on the right path.”

At the rate he is going, you will know his name and his game very soon.

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