Near the end, someone at courtside said rather apologetically, “He’s young.”
But this was not simply a flippant observation of 16-year old Brandon Nakashima, the San Diegan and top rated national collegiate recruit. It was as much a compliment to a young man who showed some fight in what could have been a lopsided affair on the main stage at Stadium 2 at the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells on Tuesday.
Faced with a daunting task – the 27-year old Canadian Vasek Posposil, a former Wimbledon doubles champion – Nakashima was an automatic crowd favorite. In front of a sizeable audience, the first round Qualifying match turned heavily in favor of Posposil, who raced out to a comfortable lead in the first set. With a combination of punches ranging from electric service aces to powerful forehand winners, Posposil secured the opening set at 6-0, leaving the young Nakashima to return to the sideline in search of a feasible answer.
After losing the seventh straight game, Nakashima broke through with the first of his own, and the Indian Wells crowd roared with approval. Combining serve and volley with accelerated groundstrokes equivalent to his experienced opponent, Nakashima held his own all the way to a 5-4 lead in the second set, as the crowd voiced its support with cheers of “Let’s go Brandon” heard throughout.
Posposil regrouped, however, retooling his game for a quick tiebreaker highlighted by excellent serves, closing out a first round victory, 6-0, 7-6(3).
Still, in the jazzed arena, the story was Nakashima. His tennis career still unfolding, the youngster is sure to return to this stage again and again, with years of experience in his favor.
Also in Men’s action, former UCLA Bruin Mackenzie McDonald notched a straight set win over Glendale’s Alex Sarkissian, and Marcos Giron (Thousand Oaks) is due on court later this evening.
The women’s Qualifier continued on Tuesday, beginning with Ashley Kratzer coming off a rousing victory over the top seed. Her second round opponent, fellow American Sachia Vickery, began with Kratzer (Newport Beach) continuing the dominant play that worked to her benefit a day before. But once Vickery turned the tide, Kratzer suffered again from untimely errors. Unable to regain momentum, Kratzer fell in straight sets.
The men’s Main Draw was announced this afternoon, including a first round match between Taylor Fritz (Rancho Santa Fe) and 20-year old wild card Reilly Opelka. SoCal’s Jared Donaldson (Irvine) will meet a to-be named qualifier, while Steve Johnson (Redondo Beach) faces off with Daniil Medvedev of Russia. The celebrated American Frances Tiafoe meets wild card Ernesto Escobedo (West Covina) and Poway’s Bradley Klahn meets Thomas Fabbiano of Italy in the opening round. The #18 seed Sam Querrey also enjoys a first round bye.