Nakashima Win Over Ruusuvuori Ensures All-American Final In Atlanta

Brandon Nakashima (photo: Truist Atlanta Open)

ATLANTA/WASHINGTON, August 1, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Saturday’s Truist Atlanta Open semifinal field included three Americans plus Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland. Not surprisingly, the U.S. trio of Taylor Fritz, John Isner and Brandon Nakashima has garnered most of the headlines this week in this ATP 250 hard-court tournament that is the first stop in the US Open Series of hard-court tournaments leading up to the season’s final major that begins a month from now in New York City.

Thanks to Nakashima’s 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 comeback victory over Ruusuvuori in their first career meeting, it ensured that not only would there be an all-American final on Sunday, but the 19-year-old #NextGenATP rising star would play in his second career final and second straight ATP Tour-level title match following last week in Los Cabos, Mexico. Plus, as an added reward, the 115th-ranked Nakashima will break into the FedEx ATP Top 100 next week, where he will be the youngest American in the Top 100.

For one set, it looked like an in-form Ruusuvuori might finally reach his first tour-level final. That’s because he broke Nakashima in the opening game of the match and quickly built a 3-1 lead by winning points with his crisp, solid groundstroke winners and all-court hustle. He won the 41-minute opening set 6-3 with his second service break and had break points in each of Nakashima’s five service games.

However, Nakashima acquitted himself nicely during the final two sets. He broke Ruusuvuori in the opening game of each set and by the completion of the one-hour and 54-minute match on Stadium Court, the San Diego, Calif. resident had racked up 14 aces and won 79 percent (42 of 53) of his first-serve points, including 31 of 32 in the final two sets.

Nakashima closed out the semifinal victory on his first match-point opportunity with his third break of Ruusuvuori’s serve. He outpointed his opponent 83-77 to win for the 10th time in his last 12 matches. It was the ninth time this year Nakashima has come back to win after losing the first set.

“He came out playing really well, and I got off to a slow start,” Nakashima said, quoted by the ATP website. “But I just told myself to stick to my tactics out there, and I just served a lot better in the second and third sets. That really helped my ground game a lot. I’m definitely happy to get through this.”

Next, Nakashima will face No. 6 seed Isner, whose 27 aces lifted him to a 7-6 (4), 5-7, 6-3 victory over No. 5 seed Fritz in Saturday evening’s second semifinal. Isner will be seeking his sixth Truist Atlanta Open title in his first ATP Tour final of the season.

Despite the loss, the 22-year-old, 78th-ranked Ruusuvuori is still excellent in three-set matches this year, winning six of eight. The Helsinki native been a very pleasant surprise around Atlantic Station this week. He arrived in Saturday’s semifinal round after stringing together earlier wins over American Mackenzie McDonald and No. 7 seed Benoit Paire of France plus an upset of No. 3 seed Cameron Norrie from Great Britain in the quarterfinals.

Now, with an 11-8 win-loss record on hard courts this season, it’s on to the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., for Ruusuvuori where he’ll play a qualifier in the opening round and could face fifth seed Jannik Sinner in the second round.

Saturday’s Truist Atlanta Open results

Sunday’s Truist Atlanta Open order of play

Around Atlantic Station

Reilly Opelka hasn’t played doubles that often this season – just three tournaments – but when he has, he’s reached two finals. First at Queen’s Club with John Peers of Australia and now with Italy’s Jannik Sinner at Atlanta. He’s gone 7-2.

On Saturday, the American-Italian duo advanced to Sunday’s title match with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Marcelo Arevalo of El Salvador and Miguel Angel Reyes-Varela of Mexico. They will play the American-Aussie pair Steve Johnson and Jordan Thompson, who beat Alexei Popyrin and Matt Reid, both from Australia, 4-6, 6-3, 10-8.

Johnson and Thompson reached the semifinals after defeating wild cards Nick Kyrgios of Australia and Jack Sock of the United States, 6-3, 6-4, in a match that was postponed by rain Friday night and moved to Saturday afternoon.

By the numbers 

Brandon Nakashima, 19, is the first American teenager on the ATP Tour to reach finals in back-to-back weeks since then-18-year-old Andy Roddick won at Atlanta and Houston in 2001.

“Quotable …”

Now it can be told: After Taylor Fritz‘s 7-6 (5), 6-7 (3), 7-6 (4) quarterfinal victory over Reilly Opelka, he was asked about the challenges of putting aside his close friendship with his fellow American: “We had plans to have dinner last night, and we were talking all day this morning before the match. It’s all love. … We know we’re going to play each other so many more times. We’re normal before the match, too, making jokes going down in the elevator heading down to the courts before the match, and then we go back to to normal after the match.”