Self-improvement remains Sumit Nagal’s driving force

The 22-year-old has been dedicating about six hours a day to practice during the lockdown.

By Subhayan Dutta ·

While the pandemic-induced break in sporting events saw most athletes returning home to their families, for Sumit Nagal it was yet another chance for improving himself.

The fast-emerging Indian tennis star was at the Riverside County community of Indian Wells in California to compete at the BNP Paribas Open when a public health emergency was announced due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Instead of returning to his family in Delhi, the 22-year-old decided to touch down at Germany’s Peine at the Nensel Tennis Academy.

“I didn’t have enough time to train last year so I don’t mind it,” Sumit Nagal told the Olympic Channel.

“I am getting good training and improving a lot, to be honest. And I’m working on the right things,” he added.

Apart from his coaching staff, who design his training schedule, Sumit Nagal has fitness centres and tennis courts in and around the academy to keep him sharp. And he has made the training centre his second home.

“Around five to six hours of my day go into tennis and fitness sessions,” Sumit Nagal detailed out his daily routine. “There are two two-and-a-half-hour breaks.”

Sumit Nagal’s momentum interrupted

The country’s newest tennis sensation had approached 2020 at the back of an impressive 2019 season.

Taking a set off the legendary Roger Federer put him in the spotlight and winning the Buenos Aires Challenger by upstaging Argentina’s Facundo Bagnis was a highlight as well.

But those were not the only contributions to his ascent in the ATP rankings table.

Sumit Nagal played eight tournaments on the Challenger Circuit from April to June in 2019, where he reached five semi-finals and one quarter-final, a consistent run that fetched him 170 points.

Consequently, the athlete who started in January as the world no. 361 had ended the tennis season as world no. 127 in November – becoming the second-highest ranked player in India after Prajnesh Gunneswaran.

Hence, the forced break did hamper the momentum he was enjoying, both physically and mentally.

“Yes, it is annoying for tennis players, because this almost never happens,” Sumit Nagal said referring to the lockdown. “You always travel and play.

“It’s definitely tough, not just for me but for everyone. But I think there are some things you can’t control.

“I don’t have anything in my hands, so I try to do things in a way that will make me better,” he added.

Keeping injuries at bay

Sumit Nagal’s exasperation, however, is understandable.

The Haryana-born athlete had first shown promise in 2017 when he had got the better of Briton Jay Clarke on the hard court in India to win his first Challenger in Bangalore.

But just when the product of Mahesh Bhupati’s ‘Mission 2018’ initiative was showing signs of switching gears, the then 20-year-old Sumit Nagal suffered a series of injuries.

“If you look from 2014 to 2018, these were the tough years for me. I was playing and getting injured. So, I wasted a lot of time in those four-five years,” he pointed out.

What started as a torn labrum in his shoulder in 2017 continued throughout the following year where an injury-hit Sumit Nagal saw as many as 18 first-round exits.

Hence, despite the Challenger title and becoming only the third Indian to face Roger Federer, after Rohan Bopanna and Somdev Devvarman, the biggest success for Sumit Nagal in 2019 has been staying clear of injuries.

“My main goal remains to stay injury-free in the coming years and keep improving my game,” Sumit Nagal said.

And he intends to keep it that way, above everything else.