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Former UVa. tennis star Brandon Nakashima red-hot, to face Arlington's Denis Kudla at Citi Open

Former UVa. tennis star Brandon Nakashima red-hot, to face
Arlington's Denis Kudla at Citi Open 1

Brandon Nakashima has been red-hot in his last three tennis tournaments. He’s made back-to-back finals appearances and he’s won his first two matches at the Citi Open.

Nakashima made the finals in Atlanta last week, falling to John Isner, and lost to Cameron Norrie on the final day after cruising to the title match in Los Cabos, Mexico, the week before. 

This week, it’s been no different for Nakashima, who turned 20 years old Tuesday. He has won both of his matches in the District in straight sets, including a 7-6, 6-0 win over Dan Evans on Wednesday.

“Having all this confidence from playing all these matches, going deep in tournaments has been good for me,” Nakashima said. “I’m sure every player would want to have this feeling right now of playing well and winning all these matches.”

Nakashima entered the week with the highest world ranking of his career at No. 89, moving up 26 spots after his Atlanta performance.  

“I think he‘s got obviously a very big future,” Evans said. “He seems very calm and levelheaded, which is a good thing. … He put me away pretty convincingly in the end.”

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It was Evans’ first match on tour since testing positive for COVID-19 last month and missing the Tokyo Olympics.

“It was very strange to be back playing. Probably a week, two weeks, a little too early. But I decided to come out to practice and get out here to get used to the conditions,” said Evans, who hadn’t played since a third-round loss at Wimbledon in July.

“It was difficult to know how I’d feel. It’s been difficult to get back into some sort of shape. I had pretty bad symptoms,” he said. “I was sort of out of the game, I guess, for … 14 to 20 days. Not the best thing in the world, but that’s what it is.”

In other matches, American Steve Johnson came back to top No. 3 Alex de Minaur 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-2. Like Evans, de Minaur sat out the Olympics after testing positive for COVID-19. John Millman, the 11th seed, beat qualifier Elias Ymer 6-2, 7-6 (8).

Nakashima, a former University of Virginia tennis star, turned pro after one year in Charlottesville, but he didn’t leave before making a splash. In 2019, he was named ACC Freshman of the Year and First Team All-ACC after a 17-5 season in singles.

Though Nakashima was only a Cavalier for one year, he said he learned some things on and off the court while playing collegiately that he uses now as a professional.

“In college tennis, there’s a lot of pressure points, there’s a lot of other things going on in the crowd and everything,” Nakashima said.  “I think that has helped me get through some of these matches as well, just the mental aspect of it, especially during these crucial points and these big matches on the pro tour.”

He also noted that moving from San Diego to Charlottesville helped him prepare for the time spent away from home while he’s on tour. 

In the Citi Open, he has looked like he’s at home, cruising into Thursday’s Round of 16, where he will face Arlington native Denis Kudla. 

The two haven’t played each other in competition yet, but Kudla also has been on a tear this week. He won his second-round match against No. 10 seed Taylor Fritz in straight sets Wednesday, 6-4, 6-2.

It’s only the second time in his career that Kudla has advanced past the first round at the Citi Open. The last time he did, in 2018, he made it to the quarterfinals. 

“Getting this win is definitely giving me a lot of confidence, getting past that first round at home,” Kudla said Tuesday. “I feel like I can free swing now, and I’m excited for whatever else is to come.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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