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Sumit Nagal: To play regularly in main draw, we have to have a system in place

In the oddity of Indian men's singles, Sumit Nagal caused a rare moment of euphoria by becoming the first Indian tennis player to win in the first round of the Australian Open Grand Slam when he beat world no. 27 Bublik.

Sumit Nagal Tennis

Sumit Nagal falls short of winning his third ATP Challenger Tour title this year (File Photo)


Sudipta Biswas

Published: 20 Jan 2024 12:31 PM GMT

In the oddity of Indian tennis, where the days of glory are a handful in men's singles, Sumit Nagal caused a rare moment of euphoria by winning in the first round of the year's first Grand Slam, the Australian Open, in Melbourne, earlier this week.

It was such a rare moment in Indian men's singles that the last Indian male player to win at the same level was Ramesh Krishnan in 1989.

Nagal is proud of the moment that he won in the first round after playing in the main draw of a Grand Slam after four years.

Right after he returned home, he called for a well-rounded system to foster the growth of tennis in the country and to have more Indian players in the Grand Slam main draw.

"We have to have a system in place. To play on at that level regularly, we need to have certain rankings, and certain ranking comes from playing certain tournaments," Nagal told The Bridge in an exclusive interview.

"We need to have better conditions, facilities at home and access to better coaches. We also need to have access to some type of funding because playing the sport is very, very costly and not too many get there with funding themselves," added the 26-year-old.

When Nagal got better of world no. 27 Alexander Bublik, a player ranked 110 above the Indian, 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 (5) in the first round; it made the social sphere of media talking glore. It was his career's biggest victory.

"It was a very good match for me. It was one of the days when I adapted to the conditions better which were hot and wind, I barely made any errors from the baseline, served very well, kept myself very calm and the way I played my tennis I was very proud of myself," narrated Nagal.

Even though Nagal bowed out in the next round, losing to China’s Shang Juncheng in a four-setter (6-2, 3-6, 5-7, 4-6), he managed to script history by becoming the first Indian player to advance to the second round at a Grand Slam event.

"To be honest, it was a very good match from both of us. In that game I got broke, but I do not think I made too many mistakes. He just came up with phenomenal shots. It was a tough condition to play, not easy with so much wind and temperature dipping from 30-32 degrees to 20 degrees," he added.

"In tennis, conditions matter a lot. But he (Shang) adapted and changed his game better than me. It was one of those days when you feel like you came so close to winning and it does not go your way," said Nagal, who claimed Aus$180,000 (around Rs 98 lakh) in prize money for his first-round victory.

'Confidence and deep belief'

Nagal is disappointed for not making it to one round more, but he does not want to ponder too much about it in a sport where hardship is a perpetual companion for players in India. He saw it all.

Just before the Australian Open, he was deprived of a wildcard entry by the All India Tennis Association (AITA), the patron of the sport in India, for his refusal to play India's Davis Cup tie against Pakistan in Islamabad scheduled in February. He fought through three qualifiers before making it to the main round, a chance he earned after four years.

Nagal rescinded the chaos from his mind; he wanted to focus on the gains that he made by playing at the main draw of the Australian Open.

Asked what his takeaways are, he came up with an articulated answer: "Confidence, some tennis points and deep belief, and seeing the smile on my family, friends, coaches, team and sponsors. I think these are the major things that I would take from the tournament."

Nagal, who will be playing next in the Chennai Open Challenger, starting on February 5, before moving to Bengaluru and Pune, has remained focused on what he has been doing for years - 'Keep improving'.

"I do not want to be greedy, just want to keep on improving, staying fit and keep giving myself a chance to keep performing better," said the boy from Jhajjar, Haryana.

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