Nagal is India’s dear after giving Federer a scare

Nagal is India’s dear after giving Federer a scare

Desi toast

 Roger Federer of Switzerland shakes hands with Sumit Nagal of India after their Men's Singles first round match on day one of the 2019 US Open. (Getty images/AFP)

India on Tuesday woke up to a pleasant surprise. Sumit Nagal had taken the opening set against the greatest of all times, Roger Federer. And though Federer stepped up to reel off the next three, Nagal, playing his maiden Grand Slam singles in the US Open, earned a pat on the back from all and sundry.

The 22-year-old had grabbed the spotlight when he won the Wimbledon junior men’s doubles title in 2015. However, one heard of him in batches. Injuries have plagued his nascent career, his lone ATP Challenger Tour title coming in Bengaluru two years ago. But Nagal is now on his way up.

He was discovered at age 11 by India’s multiple Grand Slam doubles winner Mahesh Bhupathi during a selection for the Apollo Mission programme at the Delhi Lawn Tennis Association.

The meeting changed Nagal’s life forever. In fact, Bhupathi sponsored his training even when the programme shut down. Nagal, who is ranked 190, currently trains at Nensel Academy in Germany, where he moved a year ago.

Bhupathi praised Nagal’s attitude on the big stage against the Swiss master. “He showed incredible composure against the greatest player in the world and held his own. I think both he and his coaching team should be very proud of the improvements they have made this year,” Bhupathi said, and complimented Nagal’s forehand, which stood out on Tuesday.

India’s Davis Cup coach Zeeshan Ali couldn’t agree more. “I felt Federer, a couple of times, struggled against Sumit’s forehand, especially the kind of spin he was able to generate,” he said.

“The unforced errors from Federer also helped in the first set. But Sumit looked physically in a good shape and handled the pressure very well. He made a good match out of it. I hope he builds on it, because injuries have affected his progress. You have to be consistent to break into top 150 or 100.”

Zeeshan called him a live wire. “He is a fighter, he is not somebody whom you can intimidate. He is a very hard-working guy. He realised he is not as tall, but he has managed very well. He moves very quickly on court. The one thing he needs to work on is his serve,” he said.

Back home, his parents — Suresh and Krishna — brimmed with pride watching him on television. Krishna recalled the day when she took Nagal to the selection trials. “He went straight to Mahesh Bhupathi and asked him to have a look at his game. Had it not been for Mahesh, we couldn’t have afforded his training.”

Suresh, an MCD schoolteacher, said, "Sumit loved cricket but I wanted him to play tennis. To see him today being praised by Roger Federer was heartening."