Nakashima Takes Down Atlanta Top Seed Raonic

Brandon Nakashima (photo: Truist Atlanta Open)

ATLANTA/WASHINGTON, July 29, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Truist Atlanta Open top seed Milos Raonic has been idle for four months since losing in the fourth round of the Miami Open in late March. He sat out the entire European clay season, then skipped Wimbledon and the Tokyo Olympic Games. Finally, Raonic returned, accepting a wild card in Atlanta to begin the North American hard court season that leads up to next month’s US Open.

On Wednesday evening at Atlantic Station in Midtown Atlanta, the 22nd-ranked Raonic from Canada played his first ATP Tour match in 119 days against No. 115 Brandon Nakashima of the United States – and it showed.

The former World No. 3 was upset by the #NextGenATP rising star from San Diego, Calif., 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (4). It was a match that was winnable for the more experienced, 30-year-old Raonic. However, Nakashima figured out how to finish off the second-round tussle, and it garnered him the biggest win of his young career. The victory improved his win-loss record in all competitions this year to 27-16, and it earned him his second straight ATP Tour-level quarterfinal.

At a set apiece, Raonic saved two match points on Nakashima’s serve at 5-4 (40-15) and broke the 19-year-old American to level the final set at 5-all. Then, he consolidated the break with his 26th ace to push ahead 6-5. However, Nakishima recovered in the next game and his 13th ace set up a third-set tie break, which he dominated. Nakishima closed out the two hour and 13-minute victory on his fifth match-opportunity after Raonic hit a second-shot forehand wide. Raonic finished with 27 aces but also served 10 double faults. Nakashima outpointed Raonic 97-90.

“When I was serving for it in the third set, my heart was definitely pounding really hard,” Nakashima admitted during a post-match interview. “I was trying to tell myself to stay calm, just play smart. … I got some early points in the tie break and closed it out at the end. [Getting the match point] was definitely a sigh of relief from me. A lot of emotions went through my head. I was  definitely excited to get the win tonight.”

Next, Nakashima, who is 8-2 in his last 10 hard-court matches, will play Jordan Thompson of Australia in Friday’s quarterfinal round. The No. 63 Thompson pounded 18 aces to beat 130th-ranked qualifier Peter Gojowczyk of Germany, 7-6 (6), 6-4, in an hour and 47 minutes.

Fritz beats Johnson for third time this season

Before rain interrupted play near the end of the first set of the Gojowczyk-Thompson match, No. 5 seed Taylor Fritz beat No. 80 Steve Johnson in an all-American matchup for the third time this season. The 42nd-ranked Fritz, a semifinalist last week in Los Cabos, fired 17 aces, was not broken, and rallied after losing a first-set tie break to win 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-1 in an hour and 59 minutes. It was the third time this year that Fritz had come back to win after losing the first set. He outpointed Johnson 94-79.

“I’m feeling really good, I like playing in the heat,” Fritz said during a post-match interview on Stadium Court, where the temperature soared to 95 degrees (Fahrenheit). “And you know, we had a couple of tough [rallies] out there, but it was mostly serving. This is a fast court and there were a lot of short points, so it doesn’t take a big toll on my body.”

On Friday, Fritz will play No. 4 seed Reilly Opelka of the United States, who beat 190th-ranked qualifier and fellow American Bjorn Fratangelo, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4), in an hour and 38 minutes to wrap up play Wednesday evening on Stadium Court. Opelka fired 25 aces with his final one coming on match point.

Wednesday’s Truist Atlanta Open results

Thursday’s Truist Atlanta Open order of play

Around Atlantic Station

The tournament’s No. 2 seed Jannik Sinner of Italy and No. 3 seed Cameron Norrie from Great Britain, each who received first-round byes, will see their first action on Thursday. The 23rd-ranked Sinner will face 132nd-ranked qualifier Christopher O’Connell of Australia during the afternoon session, while the No. 29 Norrie will be featured against Aussie Nick Kyrgios, ranked 58th, during the evening.

Also, in a week that’s been filled with all-American battles, No. 6 seed John Isner and 201st-ranked wild card Jack Sock will meet for the ninth time – but first since 2016 – and expect to see plenty of service aces. Isner leads the career head-to-head against Sock 5-3.