He had just come from a disappointing clay tournament in Shymkent, Kazakhstan, dropping his second match of qualifying rounds by posting a bagel at the back end of a straight set loss. Due in Korea one week later for a hard court Challenger, Daniel Nguyen considered packing up and heading back to the States.
“I have high expectations of myself to do well,” Nguyen says, admitting that those expectations had been tamed by a nagging shoulder injury. His ranking – as high as #189 back in 2015 – had fallen back into the 300s, his last tournament victory in Tallahassee at the tail end of that same year. Entering 2017, Nguyen had decided to head abroad for the spring season, to spend time in Seoul among friends while gearing up for the upcoming hard court season. He’d signed on for three successive tournaments across Asia, hoping his shoulder would persevere and spark a rankings resurgence.
Nguyen wasn’t used to struggling. In 2009, he was half of a USTA Boys 18s Doubles tandem that qualified for the US Open, making him the first Vietnamese-American to compete at Flushing Meadows. From 2009 to 2012, the former Santa Barbara High School star was a key component in USC’s remarkable run of four consecutive NCAA Men’s Tennis titles. “They constantly pushed you to compete at the highest level,” he says of his Trojan peers, from coach Peter Smith to Steve Johnson, a former teammate.
As a young professional in 2013, Nguyen traveled to Korea and exceled with ten straight wins and two tournament titles. The following year, he reached the finals at the ITF Mexico before an impressive run across the United States that culminated with huge wins in North American Futures events, the latter a finals triumph over current World #132 Bjorn Fratangelo in Canada. He ended 2014 with a victory opposite countryman Marcos Giron in Mexico, and closed 2015 with that last tournament win in Florida.
Despite injuries that translated into lesser results, Nguyen persevered to stay inside the ATP top 300. But by the beginning of May this year, he was ranked #404.
Fast forward to the first round in Sangui, opposite unranked Jaeyoung Park of Japan. “I didn’t feel great,” Nguyen remembers, “But I thought, ‘I’ve got to stay. I’ve got to grind it out.’” He did just that, a 6-3, 6-1 win. By the quarterfinals, his play was “lights out,” dropping only three games. “I started to find myself again on the court,” he says.
It was the start of something bigger. Nguyen went on to win the Sangui event (and appear in the tournament’s Doubles final), and strung together 15 straight wins over the course of three weeks, resulting in three tournament championships from Korea to Chinese Taipei. In a span of about 20 days, he dropped only three sets while recording a 176-97 game record inside of his 15-0 match run.
“I had the belief that I could beat anyone on the court, anyone on any given day,” he says. “It takes a lot of mental fortitude to keep going (for three weeks). I was just ready to grind every match, and ended up winning 15 straight.”
Following the streak, Nguyen admits he didn’t even touch a tennis racquet for ten days. Instead, the focus was on rest and attention to his recovering shoulder, which now feels strong and ready for a summer of North American Challenger events. His goal is to boost that ranking – now at #296 – enough to qualify for the US Open in September.
Nguyen heads to Canada this week in preparation for a hard court Challenger event in Gatineau, outside Ottawa.