Updated: August 27, 2019 8:12:37 am
Ahead of his first match in the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament, Sumit Nagal’s father says it was always his son’s dream to play against an athlete he describes as the god of tennis.
“Roger Federer is the god of tennis and it was Sumit’s dream to play against him. Who knows if he (Roger) announced his retirement in the coming one-two years, so by god’s grace Sumit got a chance to play against him in his debut,” Suresh told indianexpress.com at their Delhi residence.
Sumit mounted an incredible comeback in the final qualifying round to set up a first-round clash against Federer at the US Open, becoming only the fifth Indian male player to feature in a Grand Slam singles main draw in this decade. When asked how Sumit was feeling about arguably the biggest match in his career so far, Suresh said, “The last time we spoke, he was extremely excited about the meeting. I also asked him not to be nervous, but he responded saying there’s no nervousness at all.”
Suresh admits as a child his son was originally drawn to cricket like other children, but then he intervened.
“When he was seven-years-old, we got him enrolled at the DDA tennis academy in Paschim Vihar. During his initial days, it was either me or his mom, who without missing any day, used to accompany him for the training sessions,” said Suresh.
“I remember dropping him at the academy at 6 in the morning, and when I was not around, his mother used to accompany him on buses traveling at least 6-7 kilometers every day,” he said.
Suresh said he was always confident of his son breaking into the big league, but his belief was strengthened after Sumit stunned a player two years older than him at an Under-12 tournament in Hyderabad.
“When Sumit was nine-years-old, he overpowered an opponent two years elder than him at the Under-12 championship, at that moment I knew that my son will shine in this sport,” Suresh said.
But his father also credits the 22-year-old’s rise to India’s Davis Cup non-playing captain and doubles legend Mahesh Bhupathi.
“Bhupathi got Sumit in the tennis circuit by providing him the direction he required. Even after 10 years, he still is showing him the path,” Suresh said.
Sumit has also spoken of how he had asked Bhupathi to watch him play, and how it resulted in him being picked one of the first students at the tennis star’s academy.
Suresh said Sumit was among the 14 youngsters selected in a 2008 programme sponsored by Apollo Tyres that aimed to develop an Indian Grand Slam winner in the next decade. It was at this event that Bhupathi and Canadian coach Bobby Mahal spotted Sumit.
He added that the programme was shut just after two years but Mahal insisted that Bhupathi should keep guiding Sumit. Sumit trained under Bhupathi until 2011, and then moved to Canada. After three years in Canada, Sumit moved to Germany in 2014 to train under Argentine coach Mariano Delfino.
In 2015, he partnered Ly Hoang Nam to clinch the 2015 Wimbledon Boys Doubles title. Then in the 2017 Bengaluru Open, Sumit, who was a wildcard entry, first beat Yuki Bhambri in the semis before eventually winning the tournament.
Sumit’s elder sister Sakshi said her brother has spent just a single Rakshabandhan at home since moving to Canada. Suresh also said his son was hardly at home, and whenever he is, it’s for a day or two. If he stays here for longer, he just focuses on tennis.
“It was the hardest when Sumit left- back when he was 10. I couldn’t talk to him for one month, and now whenever I watch him playing there’s nervousness, but I believe he will do well,” Krishna, his mother, said.
But Sakshi also remembers a time from their childhood when Sumit wouldn’t come down from the terrace of their Nangloi home on Independence Day as he flew kites. On those days he would ask his mother or sister to bring his meals to him.
“He is fond of ‘kadhi chawal’ and it is the first thing he demands as soon as he lands in New Delhi,” Sakshi said.
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