India's top singles tennis player Sumit Nagal pulled off a spirited show at the ongoing US Open 2020. He became the first singles player for India to win a match at the main draw of a grand slam when he defeated American Bradley Klahn on Tuesday in Round 1 of the tournament. However, his run at the US Open fell short as the World no. 124 bowed out in the next round after suffering a straight-set defeat against World no. 3 Dominic Thiem. The 23-year-old Delhi lad has come a long way so far since his entry into tennis and taking charge in the solitary journey of the singles game for India.
Qualifies into the main draw last year. Makes it to Round 2 this year.
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 3, 2020
Nagal can easily be deemed as India's dark horse in tennis with his relentless pursuit to comeback every time from setbacks and deliver. Born on 16th August 1997 into a middle-class family in Haryana’s Jhajjar, Sumit grew up in West Delhi’s Nangloi. His father Suresh Nagal is a primary teacher at a government MCD school while his mother is a homemaker.
Sumit had a soft corner for cricket while growing up, which eventually got replaced by tennis and at the age of eight, he joined training at a local tennis court in Paschim Vihar. Sumit found himself in early training sessions in the morning, followed by school, coming back home, then heading out for a fitness session, coming back to do his homework and finally call it a night at around 9-10 PM. This went on for a while.
In 2007, a 10-year-old Sumit was selected for a training camp at Delhi’s RK Khanna Academy where he was spotted by Mahesh Bhupathi. Sumit's life turned around under Bhupathi's guidance, who diligently looked after his training. He got selected for Bhupathi's dream project, 'Apollo Mission 2018', although it was shelved in a couple of years. Sumit moved to Bengaluru to train at Bhupathi’s academy and then to Spain for further training.
In 2015, Sumit reached his first major milestone at the age of 17, when he became the sixth Indian player to win a junior Grand Slam title in 2015. He won the Wimbledon boys' doubles title pairing with Nam Hoang Ly of Vietnam. Sumit made his Davis Cup debut for India in the 2016 World Group Playoff tie against Spain in New Delhi, but then he faced some major lows over the next couple of years. In 2017, Sumit won his first ATP Challenger title in Bengaluru but his injuries prevented him from making great progress. It was then, the Virat Kohli Foundation came to his rescue and took care of the finances.
Sumit finally made a major breakthrough in 2019 when he entered the US Open qualifiers. Starting the year outside the 350 bracket, Sumit soon broke into top-200 for the first time in his career with consistent performance in the Challenger Circuit.
Sumit ended up catching media attention when he made a dream start to his Grand Slam career by not only playing Roger Federer in the opening round of the US Open but also beating the 20-time Grand Slam champion 6-4 in the opening set, although he ended up losing the match, he still thinks of that playoff as a career highlight.
Sumit Nagal playing against Roger Federer at the 2019 US Open (Source: TOI)
At this season's US Open, Sumit displayed composure, determination, patience and skill, Nagal registered a 6-1, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 win over American Bradley Klahn. The win, despite it coming after such a long time, was no accident. The world no. 124 had prepared himself to make the breakthrough. And when the tennis tour was suspended in March because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the 23-year-old made the crucial decision to stay in Germany rather than return to India. In late May, the German government allowed professional players to resume training, and Nagal, based in Peine where he trains at the Sascha Nensel Academy, started to put in the hard yards once again. He played exhibition events in Germany and Switzerland before heading to Prague for a Challenger, followed by the trip to the US Open. And the improvement is evident.
Sumit is a much more matured player now with age by his side, we are sure to expect some momentous performances from him in the future.