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From courtside to centre court, the journey of trendsetter Sumit Nagal

Much like his idol Rafael Nadal, Nagal has shown remarkable fighting spirit and perseverance in his journey to the top.

From courtside to centre court, the journey of trendsetter Sumit Nagal

Sumit Nagal is India's highest ranked men's singles player on ATP rankings. 


Arjun Mylvahanan

Published: 17 April 2024 9:32 AM GMT

In tennis, where every match embodies remarkable skill, resilience and veritable determination, Sumit Nagal stands tall as a beacon of hope for India in men's singles.

He attained his career-best ATP ranking of 80 on Monday and retained his status as the highest-ranking Indian in the recently released rankings. In addition to that, he became the first Indian in 49 years to feature in the prestigious Monte Carlo Masters this month.

Hailing from the nondescript town of Jhajjar, Nagal's journey to the highest level of ATP tournaments epitomises perseverance, dedication and triumph of sheer will power.

A child prodigy

Nagal was, in the proverbial sense of the term, a child prodigy born with a tennis racket in hand. He fell for the sport when he was eight.

Spotted from a tennis clinic conducted by legendary Indian tennis player Mahesh Bhupathi, Nagal soon found a mentor in Bhupathi.

"Mahesh has helped me in every way. If it was not for him, then I don't think my dad would have been able to afford tennis," Nagal recounted in a 2015 interview with Sportskeeda.

His breakthrough came when he won the 2015 Wimbledon boys' doubles title with his Vietnamese partner Ly Hoang Nam, defeating Reilly Opelka and Akira Santillan in the final. He became the sixth Indian player to win a junior Grand Slam title.

Nagal then produced an extraordinary show in the 2017 Bengaluru Open, pulling off multiple upsets on his way to his first Challengers title.

The Haryana boy's rise to stardom could be traced back to 2019 when he made his Grand Slam debut at the US Open and faced one of the greatest tennis players of all time, Roger Federer.

It was not a forgettable outing for neither Nagal nor Indian fans. Nagal managed to win the first set and although Federer won the match, it was a lifetime experience for Nagal.

At the 2020 US Open, Nagal became the first Indian to win a main draw match in the singles event of a Grand Slam in seven years defeating American Bradley Klahn in the opening round.

Although Nagal is now India's highest-ranted tennis player, his journey has never been rosy as he has his fair share of struggles on his way to the top.

Hurdles to cross

Tennis is a very expensive sport, and to sustain at the highest levels you need a lot of money. Nagal has had difficulties financially during his formative years and has been quite expressive about it as well.

"If I look at my bank balance, I have what I had at the beginning of the year. It is 900 euros," said Nagal in September 2023. In another interview with the Times of India, Nagal remarked, "The thing with tennis is that it is a funny sport. I have been spending more than INR 1-1.5 crore on a yearly basis."

His mentor, Mahesh Bhupathi has remarked that Sumit Nagal possesses a "hunger" for success and that is what has helped him move past hardships.

Idolising Spanish legend Rafael Nadal, Nagal played with identical fighting spirit and has persevered his way to the ATP tournaments. And like his idol, Nagal is a master on clay and prefers it over grass, something his fellow tennis players from India don't share in common.

"When I started playing tennis I played on clay. Since I moved to Germany I have played on clay courts. I love playing on clay. I move well on it for some reason and if I am moving well, it gives me extra confidence and clay gives me that," said Nagal.

Back to the top

At the Tokyo Olympics, Sumit Nagal became the first Indian to win a singles match in over 25 years when he beat Uzbekistan's Denis Istomin in three sets in the opening round.

However, after the Olympics, Nagal had gone through a torrid time, suffering injuries, especially in his hip. As a result, much of 2022 went in vain as he slipped to a world ranking of 506 in 2023.

But the fighter that he is, Nagal did not give up. He won his first Challengers Cup in four years at the Garden Open in Rome, becoming the first Indian to win a Challenger title on European clay.

"Injuries like the hip injury he endured messes with everything, your body, your confidence," Bhupathi had said before Nagal's comeback. "There is always that question of whether you can come back and play at that level again," he added, emphasising how difficult it was for Nagal to make a comeback.

It is a testament to the grit Nagal has to see him not just recover from such an arduous injury but to also excel and reach newer heights since coming back. But his struggle was far from over as he would himself reveal his hardships.

After investing whatever he had accumulated through playing in different tournaments, Nagal said he had about INR 80000 left in the bank account. He couldn't train at his preferred Nansel Tennis Academy in Germany for the first few months of 2023. The situation forced him to play more lower level tournaments in quest of money.

The trendsetter

Despite the struggles, Nagal's hunger for wins never waned. He won the Tampere Challenger in Finland for his second Challenger title in 2023. He reached the finals of the 2023 NÖ Open in Tulln and also in the 2023 HPP Open in Helsinki.

As a result of four Challenger finals appearances and two triumphs in a single year, he broke into the top 150 world ranking and subsequently broke into the top 100 with his continued success in 2024, winning his first Australian Open main draw match.

He defeated 31st seed Alexander Bublik and became the first Indian tennis player to defeat a seeded player in the singles main draw of a Grand Slam in nearly 35 years. He became the tenth Indian to feature in the top 100 rankings after defeating Luca Nardi in the final of the 2024 Chennai Open Challenger.

Sumit Nagal shakes hands with Holger Rune first losing his Monte Carlo Masters match.

He then qualified for the Monte Carlo Masters main draw, becoming the first Indian to do so in 49 years and also made history when he won his first round against Italian Matteo Arnaldi becoming the first Indian male player to win a Masters 1000 match on clay.

"It is my first Masters win. It was a very good match in my eyes. Arnaldi was better in the first set but I was better in the subsequent sets so no complaints there. It has been an on and off few years but last few months have been very good and I am happy to be playing here in such tournaments," Nagal exclaimed in the post-match interview with Tennis Channel.

"Those 2-3 years taught me a lot. It made me a better person off the court. It made me realize how important the things around you are and I think I needed to go through that to come out stronger," Nagal remarked, underlining his struggles in 2022 and early 2023.

Nagal lost his second-round match against world number seven Holger Rune but not before putting up a brave fight.

As Nagal continues to carve his path in the world of professional tennis, his journey serves as a source of inspiration for all. As he navigates the highs and lows of the competitive circuit, Nagal remains a beacon of hope for Indian tennis, symbolising the limitless potential that lies within.

As we witness his rise, one thing is certain: Nagal's story is far from over, and the chapters yet to be written promise a lot.

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