Feature

Five things you must know about Sumit Nagal - India’s next big hope in Tennis

The talented youngster is set to feature in the Australian Open main draw

By Samrat Chakraborty ·

2021, in many ways, holds a lot of promise for the sports fraternity after the disappointments in 2020 that saw numerous tournaments across various sports including the Olympics, get postponed. 

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics, to be held this year instead, leads an array of marquee events that will unfold in 2021. 

One of the first major events this year will be the Australian Open, the first of the four Tennis Grand Slams. The Australian Open will be held in February at Melbourne and India will be keenly watching the performances of the young Sumit Nagal

The 23-year-old from Haryana has emerged as the brightest hope for India in singles of late with his exploits in the US Open in the last couple of editions. 

Nagal has been granted a wildcard entry into the 2021 Australian Open men’s singles main draw, one of eight players to have received the same. As a result, he would not have to take part in the Australian Open qualifiers this month in Dubai. 

He is currently ranked 136th in the world. As India keenly watches his progress, let’s take a look at five things you must know about the talented player.

Mahesh Bhupathi in action

A protege of Mahesh Bhupathi: Early years

Nagal, who hails from Jhajjar in Haryana, started playing tennis at the age of eight at a local sports club. Son of a school teacher, Nagal’s fortunes changed when he was selected to join one of India’s most successful tennis players in Mahesh Bhupathi’s academy.

Cricket, as is the case among most Indian kids, caught Nagal’s attention early on and he wanted to excel in the sport before his father advised him to concentrate on tennis. It was at this point that Bhupathi’s offer came in.

At a selection trial for Bhupathi’s programme in New Delhi, Nagal went up to the legend and asked him to take a look at his game. That question changed his life around as Bhupathi saw his potential.

Bhupathi, who won 12 Grand Slam titles in doubles and mixed doubles, had started a Mission 2018 programme to hone the next generation of Indian tennis players and Nagal was included in the first batch of the same.

Nagal trained in Bengaluru for two years in the programme. However, he shifted to Toronto later to train with coach Bobby Mahal.

Junior Wimbledon success

Success at Wimbledon is something that every tennis player yearns for, be it at any level. A 17-year-old Nagal gave a glimpse of his talent in 2015 at the hallowed grass courts in junior boys doubles. Partnering Vietnam’s Lý Hoàng Nam, Nagal went on to win the title, beating the American pair of Reilly Opelka and Akira Santillan in the final.

In the process, Nagal became only the sixth Indian player to win a junior Grand Slam title.

Nagal also turned professional in 2015 which turned out to be a memorable year for him.

Sumit Nagal with his PSD Bank Nord Open trophy. Photo: Nensel Academy/Facebook

Davis Cup and ATP Challenger Series success

Nagal made his Davis Cup debut for India in 2016 in a World Group Playoff tie against Spain in New Delhi. He produced a spirited performance against Marc Lopez, who won Olympic gold in doubles in 2016 with Rafael Nadal. Nagal lost 3-6, 6-1, 3-6 to Lopez in the match but gave a glimpse of his talent to everyone present.

However, his first win in Davis Cup came in November 2019 when he beat Pakistan’s Hufaiza Mohammed Rehman 6-0 6-2 in Nur Sultan, Kazakhstan.

His first ATP title came in 2017 when he won the Bengaluru Challenger. He stunned top seed Blaz Kavcic in the quarter-finals before going on to overpower compatriot Yuki Bhambri in the semifinals. In the final, he beat British star Jay Clarke to win his first ever Challenger series title.

In the 2018 Junior Asian Games, he reached the final in doubles along with Amandeep Singh and Raj Kumar (sub).

In September 2019, he found success in clay, one of his favourite surfaces. After reaching the final of the Challenger event in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina, he went a step further and won his second title in Buenos Aires.

Sumit Nagal played against Dominic Thiem in a second-round clash in the men’s singles at the 2020 US Open. Photo: Sumit Nagal/Twitter

Emergence at US Open: Matching up to Federer and Thiem

2019 was the breakthrough year for Sumit Nagal. He made it through the qualifiers for the US Open, his favourite Grand Slam, to reach the main draw.

In the final round of qualifying, he was trailing by a set and a break to Joao Menezes. He would script a stunning turnaround, reeling off seven games in a row to force a decider and take it by the scruff of its neck.

The reward was a blockbuster first-round fixture against his idol Roger Federer.

His Grand Slam debut, expected to be a tame affair, was anything but. He won the first set against the Swiss superstar to the surprise of many. Federer was pushed by Nagal but the great finally found his range to claim the match 6-4, 1-6, 2-6, 4-6.

But Nagal walked out with his head held high and Federer himself had high praise for him. “He knows what he can bring,” he said after the game. "That's why I think he's going to have a very solid career," he added.

The next year, in 2020, Nagal went a step further. Given a direct entry into the main draw, Nagal defeated USA’s Bradley Klahn 6-1, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 in the first round. In the process, he became the first Indian since Somdev Devvarman in 2013 US Open to win a main draw Grand Slam match in singles.

Though Nagal lost in the second round against eventual winner Dominic Thiem, Nagal had made the country sit up and take note.

Supported by cricket star Virat Kohli’s foundation

Indian cricket team superstar and captain Virat Kohli has been supporting Sumit Nagal. He is a beneficiary of the Virat Kohli Foundation's Athlete Development Programme.

The programme aids Nagal with travel, training and nutrition expenses.

Nagal, interestingly, has a huge passion for the Japanese culture and tattoos on his left arm depict a temple, a samurai and a lotus flower. He has in the past revealed his fascination towards Japan.