PARTAB RAMCHAND | 2 SEPTEMBER, 2019
Can Sumit Nagal be the Next Big Thing in Indian Tennis?
Sumit Nagal could well be the next Indian player making the grade
Sometime ago Vijay Amritraj emphasized the need to have at least two Indian players in the top 100 if India are to make significant progress in the Davis Cup. At the moment India have one in Prajnesh Gunneswaran and on his recent showing Sumit Nagal could well be the next Indian player making the grade.
It isn’t an easy task coming through three hard fought qualifying rounds to make the main draw of a Grand Slam event and then coming up against Roger Federer in the first round. The thought itself of having to face arguably the greatest player of all time in your first big match is enough to affect you mentally. But Sumit is obviously made of sterner stuff. Not at all overawed by the record and reputation of the opponent across the net he showed no signs of nerves and played freely and helped by Federer being a bit rusty he took the first set 6-4.
Suddenly Sumit became the cynosure and the spectators expecting a romp for the No 3 seed and 20 times Grand Slam champion sat up straight and took greater notice of the unknown 22-year-old Indian ranked No 190. There was no fairly tale ending and Federer won the next three sets fairly comfortably but Sumit had served enough notice that he could be the next big thing in Indian tennis.
To put things in the proper perspective with Indians hardly making an impact around the ATP tour let alone the majors Sumit was only the fifth Indian player after Somdev Devvarman, Yuki Bhambri, Saketh Myneni and Gunneswaran to feature in a Grand Slam singles main draw this decade.
Federer himself was fairly generous in his praise for Sumit for whom he predicted a ``very solid career’’. Asked what he thought was the standout feature of Sumit’s game Federer said ``I guess maybe how he handled the moment’’ adding that even though it is what you live for, what you dream about, playing on the big stage and he did that very well. Sumit certainly performed admirably engaging Federer for two and a half hours on court. At the end of it all Sumit was enjoying a bit of fan following as he was asked for autographs and selfies while leaving the arena.
Sumit became only the fourth Indian to win a set in the main draw of a Grand Slam event in the last 20 years. He came out swinging and impressed with his court coverage and heavily spun shots over the net in the course of his dream start before his legs started to look more wobbly allowing Federer to take control.
India’s Davis Cup captain Mahesh Bhupathi was full of praise for Sumit. ``He showed incredible composure against the greatest player in the world. I think he should be very proud of the improvement he has made this year.’’
On a learning curve, a match against Federer is stuff that dreams are made of, and Sumit took a lot of positives in defeat. "I learnt a lot from him. How to carry yourself, how to control emotions, mixing it up’’ he said. He also learnt to control his inner demons.
Sumit’s performance has provided a huge fillip to the game in India. After all he was out of the 350-rank bracket in the beginning of the season but has taken long strides since joining Sasha Nensel and Milos Galecic in Germany. According to Sumit his new team has helped reinvent himself. "With Milos it's about being healthy. The fitness bit does take time. It takes about a year and this is the first time I have played almost a full year without getting injured. Things are going well. We are ready to do more damage and make more Grand Slam main draws,’’ a confident Sumit predicted.
Incidentally Sumit who made his Davis Cup debut for India in the 2016 World Group play-off against Spain is the only Indian to take a set from Federer. Somdev Devvarman (in two meetings) and Rohan Bopanna had lost to him in straight sets.
According to Sumit qualifying for a hard court Grand Slam main draw was all the more pleasing because he spent an entire year competing on clay. ``I was quite happy that I qualified for the US Open despite not playing on hard courts since a tournament in Chennai in February,’’ he said.
Since being hand-picked by Bhupathi from a scouting camp, Sumit has not looked back. "It's been 14 years of playing tennis starting from Delhi, going to Bangalore, then moving to Canada, then for a time the US, then Germany, Spain and back to Germany. I have learnt from every place where I trained. It has made me grow both on and off court."
Sumit in fact had an outstanding career as a junior player and won the 2015 Wimbledon boys doubles title along with his Vietnamese partner becoming the sixth Indian player to win a junior Grand Slam title before running into injury problems. All that is now behind him and Sumit looks to the future with confidence.