Sumit and his joy of winning at Wimbledon

Sumit Nagal… “We played very well in the final, against the big servers. We were not bothered about our opponents. We focused on doing our own things.”-GETTY IMAGES

“Usually, I don’t play doubles. I focus on singles. The victory at Wimbledon is a big achievement for me because I am not a doubles player,” says Sumit Nagal, who in the company of Nam Hoang Ly of Vietnam won the boys’ doubles title on the hallowed turf. By Kamesh Srinivasan.

It was on his friend Nam Hoang Ly’s request that Sumit Nagal decided to play in the boys doubles in Wimbledon. “I am more happy for him. Of course, it is such a joy to win Wimbledon,” said Sumit, who is back to his training base at the Schuttler Waske Tennis University in Germany.

It was definitely not a walk in the park for the Indo-Vietnamese combination that scraped through 12-10 in the semi-finals against Miomir Kecmanovic (Serbia) and Casper Ruud (Norway).

“We did not expect anything. We were just playing every match and giving it our best shot, competing hard,” recalled Sumit.

In the final, on Court No. 1, Sumit and Nam were up against a team that had the towering Reilly Opelka (6’11”) of the United States, who had won the boys singles crown earlier on the same court before the flying Dutchmen, Jacco Eltingh and Paul Haarhuis, won the senior invitation doubles.

“We played very well in the final, against the big servers. We were not bothered about our opponents. We focused on doing our own things. But at 5-4 in the second set, we were up three championship points (40-0) on Reilly’s serve. That was the first time we realised that we could win Wimbledon. We told each other, ‘Let’s go for it; let’s do it’. We broke Reilly at love to win Wimbledon,” said Sumit, visibly thrilled with the experience.

While Ramanathan Krishnan, Ramesh Krishnan, Leander Paes, Sania Mirza and Yuki Bhambri have won a junior Grand Slam singles title, Sumit is the first Indian to win a junior Grand Slam doubles crown. It also marked the first ever junior Grand Slam title for Vietnam.

Interestingly, Nam Hoang Ly, ranked No. 12 in the world junior rankings — Sumit is ranked No. 31 — had played the Asian Junior Championship in Delhi in April and won both the singles and doubles titles. It was the first Asian Junior Championship that Sumit had skipped in the last four years. He had made it to the last four in the singles twice and won the doubles title in 2013, playing alongside Wishaya Trongcharoenchaikul of Thailand.

At Wimbledon, Sumit had a great time at the champions’ dinner, taking photographs with the men’s and women’s champions, Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams.

After having lost in the first round of the singles, it was indeed a revival of fortunes for the 17-year-old Indian. “Usually, I don’t play doubles. I focus on singles. The victory is a big achievement for me because I am not a doubles player,” said Sumit, who did not compete in doubles at the French Open this year. While he had lost in the first round of doubles at the Australian Open this year, he did not compete in doubles at the U.S. Open last year. Moreover, recently, when Sumit won the Grade-1 junior singles title in Germany, he did not play doubles. Even in the men’s circuit where he has competed in 15 tournaments so far since August 2012, Sumit has played in doubles in only four events.

Ideally, Sumit would have loved to train and compete in the preparatory tournaments before Wimbledon. He could not do so as he needed a UK visa. As it turned out, he got just about an hour’s practice on grass over two days before Wimbledon.

“Sumit loves to play in India. So when Mahesh Bhupathi was able to get him a wild card, we decided to take the chance. I guess, it didn’t work out too bad,” remarked Sumit’s coach Mariano Delfino.

From Germany, Sumit flew into Delhi on June 15 and applied for the UK visa. He played the ITF men’s Futures tournament in Hyderabad from June 16 and went on to win the singles title. “The visa is usually done in seven days, but I had to wait for three weeks,” bemoaned Sumit.

He played a second Futures tournament in Hyderabad (June 22-28) and lost in the first round to fellow trainee in Germany, Prajnesh Gunneswaran, following a third set tiebreak.

“Thereafter, I waited, waited and waited,” said Sumit, who was still to come to terms with the situation that denied him precious practice time before his first ever tournament on grass.

“Sumit was injured during the previous two Wimbledon events. He could have done well in singles with more training on grass. He could be the favourite to do well in the (junior) U.S. Open,” observed coach Bobby Mahal from Canada. Bobby had trained Sumit from 2008 to 2014.

“I could not adjust. I had played on clay and hard courts the previous weeks. I could have done better with more practice on grass, but I am happy with what I won, eventually,” observed Sumit.

The decision to play doubles at Wimbledon was taken in consultation with his coach Delfino as Sumit was not keen on playing doubles in the junior circuit. “It worked well. I love the forehand side. My partner was solid on the backhand (side). We combined very well,” Sumit said.

One of the Indian umpires, Abhishek Mukherjee, who officiated as a line umpire in the men’s final between Djokovic and Federer, had watched Sumit in action in the doubles semi-finals. According to him, Sumit, who hails from Jhajjar in Haryana but is based in Delhi, had played the best amongst the four players that day.

“I owe everything to Mahesh, as he has backed me all these years and supported me. I didn’t win anything initially. It was coach Bobby Mahal who laid the foundation and helped me win a series of tournaments to be a top ranked under-16 player in India when I was 13,” recalled Sumit.

Nam Hoang Ly and Sumit Nagal with the Wimbledon boys doubles trophy. "It worked well. I love the forehand side. My partner was solid on the backhand (side). We combined very well," says Sumit of his partner from Vietnam.-AELTC/DILLON BRYDEN

It was his father, Suresh Nagal, who insisted that Sumit should play an individual sport, when the boy was “crazy” about being a batsman in cricket. Suresh took his son to the DDA Sports Complex in Paschim Vihar, Delhi, and initiated him into tennis when he was about eight years old.

In 2008, when Mahesh Bhupathi launched his ambitious Apollo Tyres Grand Slam Champion scheme, for which he selected kids from across the country, Sumit was perceived as the best athlete among them. When the sponsor backed out of the scheme two years later, which forced Mahesh and Bobby Mahal to choose one from among two dozen players to support because of limited finance, they picked Sumit Nagal.

Bobby Mahal sacrificed his own interests and focused only on Sumit, while Mahesh concentrated on getting the finance to help the boy play in tournaments around the world. In between, Karti Chidambaram, vice-president of the Tamil Nadu Tennis Association, also chipped in to sustain the support for Sumit.

When Sumit won the under-14 title at the 23rd America Cup in Miami, Florida, in December 2011, it was a big boost to his mentors, for players such as Fernando Gonzalez, Marcos Baghdatis, Andy Murray and Djokovic had won this title in their formative years.

“I believe Sumit is the real deal. Hope this is one of many stepping-stones that will lead him to be a top player,” Mahesh had observed then. If one has the talent, and he perseveres, he can break through the odds. That has been the message from Sumit, as his father, a government school teacher in Nangloi, could not have managed to support his son’s tennis on his own.

Sumit’s sister Sakshi focused on her studies and became a teacher like her father. The family has sacrificed a lot to sustain Sumit’s dream.

“My family has backed me totally. Mahesh has supported and done a great job, on and off the court. It has been tremendous,” acknowledged Sumit.

The new setup in Germany, a world-class centre with professionals, has also speeded up Sumit’s progress in the last year or so. “We had looked at a training centre in Spain also. But Sumit liked the one in Germany. They have very good facilities and very good players as training partners,” observed Bobby Mahal.

Sumit has finished Standard XII but he does not visualise going to college in the United States for his tennis. His immediate goal is to be among the men’s top-300 by February. His current world ranking is 745.

“We will train for a few weeks in Germany and there is a good chance that we will travel to North America to play more professional tournaments before possibly playing the U.S. Open juniors,” observed Delfino.

Though a bit disappointed by the early singles loss, the coach was impressed with Sumit’s response to the situation at Wimbledon. “Sumit showed a great reaction. The run in the boys’ doubles event, leading up to the final, and then actually winning the title — these are the moments for which we work hard on the practice court every day. So, if he continues to work in the same way, we believe that Sumit will be the next top Indian player,” said Delfino.

Sumit certainly knows that he has to work on his fitness, his serve and the mental aspect.

He watches Hindi movies and is a big fan of Akshay Kumar and Deepika Padukone.