Nagal upsets Bhambri in straight sets

Sumit Nagal will now face Brit Jay Clarke in Saturday’s final.

Sumit Nagal beats Yuki bhambri in straight sets to set up Final date with Brit Jay Clarke.   -  V. Sreenivasa Murthy

The Yuki Bhambri-Sumit Nagal contest was supposed to be the ideal enactment of the classic trope of a king meeting his challenger. At most it was expected to just be a fierce examination of the former’s credentials before he found a way.

Instead Bhambri suffered a stunning beat down, falling 6-4, 6-0 in the semifinal of the $100,000 Bengaluru Open. With his ranking expected to hover around 115, it all but ended his hopes of making the Australian Open main draw without having to go through the qualifying. But there was nothing to suggest in his post-match interview that he was particularly troubled by it, focussed as he was on the larger goals of staying fit and making the cut for the French Open and Wimbledon main draws next year.

In Saturday’s final, Nagal will now meet Brit Jay Clarke, who overcame Chinese Taipei’s Tsung-Hua Yang 6-3, 6-4.

Read: Breakthroughs happen in challengers

Bhambri held serve only twice on Friday. The India No.1 has always struggled in Bengaluru, where altitude doesn’t necessarily reward clean stroke-making. But never before has he seemed so bereft of solutions.

Right from the outset, Nagal displayed his full array of shots. There were forehand winners, both inside-out and down-the-line, a stretch volley and a fine backhand slice, all within the first two games. It also helped that many of Bhambri’s shots sat up, giving Nagal adequate time to pick his spot.

Bhambri did play a couple of good return games, breaking Nagal twice in the first set. There were even a few cues for him to follow as Nagal appeared a tad troubled when he worked the angles to take the ball away from the strike zone and open up the court. But Nagal’s response was to take his game a notch higher. He denied Bhambri time and hurried him into making errors, especially on the backhand side. Even when Bhambri stepped in to force the issue, the 20-year-old made some excellent passes. It was only fitting that the best of these came on match point.

“I think I played a bit aggressive than before,” said Nagal. “It worked well. With Yuki, I can’t just put the ball back. He’s too good if you give him time. And I won the important points in this match.”

Later in the evening, Divij Sharan, in the company of Russian Mikhail Elgin, clinched the doubles crown. There has now been an Indian presence among the doubles winners in nine of the 13 Challengers held from 2014, including seven all-Indian pairs.

The results:

Singles: Semifinal: Sumit Nagal bt Yuki Bhambri 6-4, 6-0; Jay Clarke (GBR) bt Tsung-Hua Yang (Tpe) 6-3, 6-4.

Doubles: Final: Divij Sharan & Mikhail Elgin (Rus) bt Ivan Sabanov & Matej Sabanov (Cro) 6-3, 6-0.