Before this week, Sumit Nagal hadn’t even made the quarter-final stage of an ATP Challenger event. So this week comes as a pleasant surprise for him, his team and his fans alike. What makes this triumph all the more exciting is the fact that hard isn’t even Sumit’s favourite surface. Sumit loves to grind it out on clay, with him having spent majority of his formative years training at the Alexander Waske Tennis University in Germany.
Sumit is only the sixth Indian to win a Junior Grand Slam after the likes of Sania Mirza and Leander Paes. He achieved this feat at Wimbledon 2015, when he won the Boys Doubles title partnering Vietnam’s Nam Hoang Ly. Sumit has had a career high ranking of 23 in the ITF Juniors, and already has 9 ITF Futures titles to his credit on the pro circuit. And now with his maiden ATP Challenger triumph, he will rise up to 225 in the latest ATP Rankings tomorrow.
On the back of his historic maiden ATP Challenger title, Indian Tennis Daily got a chance to interview the rising star of Indian Tennis, 20-year old Sumit Nagal.
Here are the excerpts :
Q) How does this breakthrough win feel? Did you expect to win this tournament?
This win feels amazing. I rate it higher than my Junior Wimbledon Doubles title. It was a tough week for me. Coming into the tournament, I did not expect to reach the quarters. But all of the areas in my game need work, and I am not going to stop working.
Q) Coming from a small town like Jhajjar, where tennis is not as popular, how did you get into the sport?
So I come from a town called Jhajjar, but I moved to Delhi when I was 6-7. I used to play cricket, but my father didn’t like it. He always wanted me to play an individual sport, so that’s how I started playing tennis at a sports complex.
Q) How did the opportunity to collaborate with Mahesh Bhupathi come about?
There was actually a selection for the Apollo Tyre Mission Grand Slam 2018, in December 2007. I found out about it from my friends and decided to give it a shot. One of my friends got selected and I did not. I felt really bad because I used to always beat him in practice. So I went up to Mahesh Sir and asked him why I was not picked. And then he watched me play, and the rest is history.
Q) And then Mahesh sent you to Canada to train under coach Bobby Mahal. How important was that?
I think it was very important for me to go to Canada. That is when I made a jump. Before that I was No.4 or No.5 in India, But when I came back, I was No.1 in both U14 and U16. So it was very significant. Moreover, I got to learn and observe and different lifestyles, and different styles of tennis. It helped in my overall growth as a player and as a person.
Q) And then you were sent to the Schuttler Waske Tennis University in Germany. How was that experience?
So in Canada, once you are above 14 or 15, all the players move to Montreal. But my coach was based in Toronto, so I did not have any good players to hit with. I also wanted to play in the European circuit, as I firmly believe that it’s the hardest circuit in the entire world. I went there with the motto “If you lose, you learn faster”. So I am proud of the fact that I’ve played more than 80% of my tournaments in Europe.
Q) Was going to the US to play College Tennis/NCAA ever in plans?
I always had it in my mind but never really did it as I did not feel it from my heart.
Q) At 5’10, you are relatively short for a tennis player. So do you take inspiration from guys like Ferrer and Nishikori?
Absolutely. There are so many guys these days in the circuit who are making it big even with a shorter height. If you look at guys like (David) Goffin and (Diego) Schwartzman, these guys are nuts. They hit the ball like crazy. When you watch them play, I mean you can’t complain about anything. These guys act as a huge inspiration to me.
Q) How is the relationship with Mahesh?
Mahesh is always going to be my mentor/manager no matter what happens. He’s supported me throughout my career. And now he’s gotten me a contract with JSW, where I am the only tennis athlete to be supported by them. I also am sponsored by Zeven, a new apparel brand started by Mahesh.
Q) You missed the start of this season with a shoulder injury. How is the shoulder doing now?
Shoulder is alright but still not a 100%. 95%, I’d say. There were only 2-3 matches where it felt bad. There was one recently in the Ningbo Challenger when I was playing the doubles. And I also felt it before my match against (Mikhail) Youzhny in the Vietnam Challenger. I also had to pull out from the Challenger in Shenzhen because of it. But it feels alright now.
Q) How was the experience of playing against one of the greats of the game in Youzhny and almost beating him?
It was tough to play against a guy like him, especially with the extremely fast courts that were there in Vietnam. I had to take my chances and use my forehand, because I knew if I get into a rally with him, I was going to be dead.
Q) Tell us a bit about your Davis Cup debut against Spain. You were up against the experienced Marc Lopez, and then cramped in the third set. How was the experience?
It was really tough. I was very very nervous going into the match. And Marc’s been around for a long time. He knows how tennis works, it’s not his time. I was playing well, but suddenly in the 3rd set at 2-0 up, I started to have trouble breathing. I felt light-headed, and felt like I was going to faint. It was burning like hell, but I tried my best.
Q) Now that you’ve had your big breakthrough with this big Challenger title, is the ATP NextGen Finals in Milan next year a goal?
Well I think it’s too early to talk about that now. I still have some way to go before I can match those guys. But what I can assure you is that I am going to work as hard as ever on all aspects one my game to be able to realise that dream.
Rapid Fire Questions
|Dream Mixed Doubles Partner||Genie Bouchard|
|Things you do when you are free||Internet and gaming|
|Favorite food||Dilli Chaat|
|The song that’s been on loop for you recently||Gulaabi Aankhen and Humsafar|
|Favorite cricketer||Virat Kohli|
|Celebrity Crush||Deepika Padukone|
|Favorite country you’ve been to and why?||Spain. Just like the relaxed atmosphere there|
|A place you haven’t been to but love to visit||Maldives|
|Dream Match-up||Nadal at French Open|
|Best friend on Tour||Rohan Bhatia, Anvit Bendre, Abdullah Shaikh, Manav Kumar Chakma|