By Rajdeep Singh Puri – 27th September, 2019
“Early this year, when I was flying from Canada to Germany after a tournament, I had six dollars in my wallet… just six dollars after the help that I have been getting, so imagine what a mess I must have been before. But I survived, and things are getting better,” says Nagal, when asked about where he was at the start of the season.
Fast forward a few months, and things have drastically changed for the 22 year old lad from Jhajjar. With consistent performances on the ATP Challenger tour, and winning a set against the one and only Roger Federer at the US Open to boot, things have been looking uphill for him.
Nagal, who recently claimed a career-high ranking of 159 after his runner-up finish at the Challenger event in Banja Luka a couple of weeks ago, is surely yearning to break the top 100 barrier and move further ahead.
The 22-year-old had the entire world’s eyes on him when he took on Roger Federer in the first round of the recently concluded US Open. Nagal had the Swiss Maestro on his feet the entire match and even went on to take the first set, much to the surprise of everyone watching and against the odds as well.
“It was a great experience playing him at this early age. It gave me a lot of experience. It was the match I always dreamt about playing. These are the matches you play tennis for. Even if you lose these matches, it’s ok. It’s part of sport.
I learnt a lot from the match. The way Federer carries himself, the way he plays tennis, and the way he does everything on court which is very remarkable,” he said.
He even garnered praise from Federer himself after the match with the 20-time Grand Slam champion praising the hard work he put in throughout the match. However, Sumit felt that he could have played a bit better.
“I did take a set off him but I thought I could have done better. It was my first time playing someone like him in a big stadium so I was a little nervous,” said Nagal.
All this for someone who started the year ranked outside 350 is quite remarkable, to say the least.
“The start of the season was not great for me as I had lost the points I won in Bangalore the year before and I was really low in the ranking. However, with the new system, I was ranked in the top 400 but that was nothing great,” said Sumit.
“After I moved to play tournaments in America in April, things started to go my way. I climbed up to 300 in the rankings and then started to get into tournaments. Everything started to go into place then with regards to scheduling and practise as well,” he said.
Fast forward to today and Sumit is India’s No. 2 singles player, behind Prajnesh Gunneswaran, and is rapidly making his way up.
“After all that, now I’m ranked in the top 160 and putting pressure to get some more points and finish as strong as possible.”
“I’m trying to make Australian Open cut, so in one way, my goal is to be in the top 100 by the end of the year,” he said.
Sumit, who prefers clay over any other surface, is slowly making his mark on hard courts as well. However, just like idol Rafael Nadal, his best results have been on the dirt.
“Since I was 13, I have been playing on clay and enjoying it. The first tournament I won as a kid was on clay,” he said.
The second half of the season has been a lot more successful for the Indian youngster, who was not finding his rhythm in the first few months.
Prior to the US Open this year, Nagal had reached three consecutive semifinals in France, Slovakia, and Italy. After reaching his first final of the year last week, he will hope to go one step further and replicate his title winning run at the Challenger event in Bangalore a couple of years ago.
With a few more tournaments in his schedule this year, the Indian youngster is aiming for a top 100 finish this year and also hoping to keep fit for the next season as well, which begins with the Australian Open in Melbourne.
Sumit is currently taking part in an ATP Challenger tournament in Argentina, in singles and doubles.