CHENNAI: It’s safe to say that Sumit Nagal has had a fair few firsts in the last three months. He followed up his first ATP Challenger title with a maiden appearance in the first round of an ATP World Tour event (Pune). He further enhanced his good run with an appearance at a Major, albeit in qualifying. Considering how his 2017 began — out of action for four months thanks to a torn labrum in the shoulder — it ended pretty well. The win in Bengaluru was extra special as it also contained the big scalp of Yuki Bhambri — India’s No 1 by a considerable distance — en route to the title.
That enabled him to make the cut for the Australian Open qualifiers. While he lost in the opener (to Italian journeyman Alessandro Giannessi), it was still a big moment for the 20-year-old.“It was my first Slam as a professional,” he said. “The match was both good and bad. I think I deserved to win. But (Giannessi) had more experience and found a way to win.”To tackle issues like those, Nagal has teamed up with the experienced Javier Ferrer (David’s brother). “I am not working with Mariano Delfino anymore,” he said. “He has been busy with family. So we ended up splitting. My new coach is Javier Ferrer. It’s only been two-three weeks but I have been enjoying my sessions with him so far.”
Nagal doesn’t really have the build of a modern player (his 5’10” frame is on the shorter side) but he makes up for that thanks to his tenacious play from the baseline. While Javier agrees to that sentiment, he has already identified an area of weakness in the Nagal game.
“He has a good forehand but he needs to improve his backhand. He prefers to play a lot of forehands.” Crucially, Nagal, the fifth seed at the Chennai Challenger, is under no illusions. He knows what he has to do to make that step up from Futures to the Challengers and beyond. “Every time you win, it makes you believe more and trusts things that you are working on. Since Bengaluru, I have been playing better. I have won a lot of Futures and one Challenger. I should be breaking into the top-150 this year. That is my goal.”
There is another incentive for the Jhajjar-born lad to kick on in 2018. He is the No 3 Indian (behind Bhambri and Ramkumar Ramanathan) and a few early wins in the season might push him closer to those two. But Nagal, who opens his campaign against France’s Antoine Escoffier on Monday, isn’t carried away. “I am not trying to compare myself with Yuki and Ramkumar. They are better players. I am focusing on improving my game and doing the things I’m supposed to do.”His rankings graph suggests he is doing exactly that.
Thirteen Indians in main draw
Three more Indians advanced to the main draw swelling the number of Indians to 13. Arjun Khade, Sidharth Rawat and Abhinav Sanjeev all progressed from the qualifiers.
Select Rd 1 matches (Indians unless mentioned):
Arjun Kadhe vs Saketh Myneni, N Vijay Sundar Prashanth vs Duckhee Lee (Kor x3), Sumit Nagal vs Antoine Escoffier (Fra). Matches start at 10.00 am.