You have to admire Sumit Nagal for sticking his neck out. When almost all Indian athletes were in lockdown during COVID-19 from March this year, the boy from Jhajjar who has made Germany his second home, was training.
Being in a residential academy in Germany, away from the buzz of a big city, made it easy for Nagal to train, all alone. He worked on his fitness, lived out of his savings when his workplace — the ATP Tour — had shut shop. He even had to ensure he did not spend too much on food bills.
He was ready to take a gamble, stay in Germany, face the hardships and continue with his tennis. As the 122nd ranked Indian faces Dominic Thiem in the second round of the US Open tonight in New York at the US Open, Nagal has nothing to lose.
Here is a young man who loves the noise and energy of New York. Just that this time around, having to stay in a bio bubble means he has to adhere to strict rules and regulations. It is basically, gym, training, tennis and back to the hotel, which is also a restricted place.
When he won his first round at the US Open two days back, it was a big deal. This was the first time an Indian was winning a round at the US Open singles after seven years. What it speaks about in volumes is how poorly Indian tennis has fared, as far as singles goes, in the last few decades.
Nagal has been a different player. Some feel he is not disciplined while few think he has too much of attitude. As one picked first by Mahesh Bhupathi and then groomed, Nagal has slogged hard, virtually alone. He knows, had he been a mamma’s boy, he would not have come this far.
Luckily, he has been supported by the Virat Kohli foundation, so he has managed to keep the journey going despite all the hardships. Against Thiem, Nagal has nothing to lose. He knows he has to do what he best knows, play hard and hope to make it a fight against Thiem, ranked No 3 in the world.
Not many would know Nagal has been poorly supported by the unprofessional All India Tennis Ássociation (AITA). During the last Davis Cup tie which India played against Croatia, he was handled badly by non-playing captain Rohit Rajpal.
Nagal did not mind it, though he should have been an obvious choice to play on the first day of the Cup tie earlier this year. Nagal had decided getting involved in petty politics of Davis Cup, where captains and coaches are selected in a whimsical manner by the AITA are not worth losing sleep.’
Tonight, Nagal knows, India will be cheering for him. He has been brave during COVID-19 times, took his risks, and flew from Germany to the United States of America. Such attitude is what makes him so special, where he cares about only his tennis and own hair colour streak!