Sumit Nagal in good rhythm, aims for Asian Games medal before returning to Europe
Sumit Nagal, who helped India beat Morocco 4-1 in the Davis Cup World Group II tie and advance to playoffs on Sunday, is one of the the country's strongest medal hopes at the Asian Games.
Sumit Nagal has had a rather successful year. He won two of his career's four ATP Challenger titles in 2023 and became the first Indian to win a tournament on European soil.
But he did not have a great start to the year, which saw the 26-year-old losing in the first round at the Maharashtra Open and qualifiers at the Nonthaburi Challenger and BW Open. Nagal struggled to get his mojo back after undergoing hip surgery and fighting the Covid-19 infections multiple times.
"I am satisfied with my second and third quarters of the year. The first quarter was of course little bit tough with not getting into the tournaments, being low in the ranking," Nagal told The Bridge on the sidelines of India's World Group II Davis Cup tie against Morocco in Lucknow.
"But being playing, and being feeling alright with my body, I feel like in good rhythm. To be able to adapt and learn things fast make me satisfied. I am happy with how the things are going on, and I feel like I am improving," he said.
By winning two clay court tournaments - Garden Open in Rome and Tampere Challenger in Finland this year, Nagal fought his way back to the top 200 of the ATP rankings. He first broke into the top 200 in 2019.
He is now India's highest-ranked men's singles player at 156th. With a 63 per cent winning rate, Nagal is promising the country a medal at the forthcoming Asian Games. On Saturday, Nagal came to India's rescue against Morocco after Sasikumar Mukund limped out of the opening singles match.
Nagal helped India draw the tie 1-1 with a comfortable 6-3, 6-3 win over Adam Moundir. He followed that with another straight-set win over Yassine Dlimi on Sunday to help India beat Morocco 3-1 and advance to the Davis Cup playoff.
'Stand very high'
Even as Nagal is excited to be India's preferred men's singles contender for the Asiad, he applied a word of caution about his chances at the quadrennial event.
"Everyone of course wants to win a medal (laugh)," said Nagal, adding, "My goal will be of course to do as well as possible and hopefully stand very high when I finish the tournament. But I will take it round by round, trying to make myself comfortable with the condition. With my ability to adapt and change, I look forward to do better. I do not know how the courts are and how the conditions will be. But playing Asian Games, Olympics or Davis Cup is always very exciting."
Nagal, however, is still not certain of pairing up with Bopanna, the reigning Asian Games gold medallist, in men's doubles.
"I do not think he will play doubles with me. But if he wants to, I will be happy to play," said Nagal on being asked about the partnership.
In April, reigning Asiad gold medallist Bopanna expressed his willingness to pair up with Nagal as he aims to defend his title.
Nagal will play Shanghai Masters right after the Asian Games before returning to Europe to play more challengers.
"I will see what my ranking is by the end of the year before starting a fresh season from January," he added.
All praise for coaches
Nagal, who trains at Nensel Tennis Academy in Peine, Germany, is also all praise for his coach Sascha Nensel, who runs the Nensel facility, and fitness trainer Milos Galecic for helping him come into his own this year after struggling with injuries and subsequent surgery for four years.
"It really helped me on and off the court. I went to the academy with Milos back in 2018. I am very close to Milos. Both Sascha sir and Milos have taught me a lot and have helped me to come to terms with many things in life. I think I am improving on and off the court which is very important for any type of development," asserted the athlete from Jhajjar, Haryana.
'Travelling is fun, but never easy'
Nagal is a keen learner in every aspect of life. He does feel fatigued with travelling frequently from one country to another and one clime to another. But the Indian does not want to take a dive into the challenges of travelling much.
"Travelling is fun, but never easy. Tournament organisers try to help you, making things easy for you by taking care of your needs. But staying away from home, espeically when you are coming from India, where you do not have many tournaments, is a little tougher," stated Nagal.
"But, I have learnt a lot from travelling and seeing different countries across the world. I will always respect and tell people if you get a chance to travel, you should always do that," he argued.