Sumit: It's important to play at the highest level

Getting back on grass after a year, and training with the Indian Davis Cup team has been an excellent learning experience for Sumit Nagal.

Playing a series of Challengers in the professional circuit and competing hard against high quality players has helped Sumit gauge himself better.   -  M. Moorthy

Sumit Nagal had given an element of excitement to Indian tennis by winning the Wimbledon junior boys doubles title last year. Getting back on grass after a year, and training with the Indian Davis Cup team has been an excellent learning experience for the 18-year-old from Jhajjar.

"It is a nice experience. I do have watched Leander, Rohan on all types of surface. Playing on grass, hard and again on grass has been tough for me," said Sumit, as he reflected on being a reserve in the squad along with Vishnu Vardhan.

"These courts are very fast, as compared to the grass in Wimbledon where I had played one year ago. And me coming from clay adds to the struggle," reasoned Sumit.

Playing a series of Challengers in the professional circuit, and competing hard against high quality players, had helped Sumit gauge himself better.

"With the coaches Jakub Zahlava and Mariano Delfino, it was decided to play at a higher level. I could have easily played the Futures and improved my rank. But, eventually, if I want to be in the top-100, I might as well get used to that level of game right away. So, it was decided to focus on Challengers. This year the cut-off for Challengers has been very high at 180 and 200," said Sumit, who had to negotiate the rough qualifying event in most of the tournaments.

"You have to play the higher level, if you want to improve faster," said Sumit, who had reached a career-best rank of 370 last month, after a struggle at the beginning of the season.

Looking at Sumit, Rohan Bopanna was impressed, particularly the way he had worked on his fitness and grown strong physically.

"I enjoy working on my fitness. There is no limit to how much one can improve," said Sumit, as he unwittingly showed his rippling muscles, splashed with tattoos.

"Sumit is doing the right thing by playing the Challengers. If you keep playing the Futures, there is no future," said the 36-year-old Bopanna, who understands the nuances of the professional circuit.

"I keep telling him to work on his serve. He already has a big forehand. It helps to have weapons. It is great that he is part of the Davis Cup squad. Ramkumar has been in the team for some time, and now it will be easy for him to go out and play," said Bopanna.

Competitive environment

Quite thrilled that Sumit could base himself in Europe at the Schuttler Waske Tennis-University and play the professional circuit, Bopanna emphasised that till the domestic system improved, it was important for the players to be in a competitive environment to ensure proper growth.

"As a professional tennis player, you never know when you get that breakthrough. It helps to play the big league to grow fast," asserted Bopanna, as he quoted the example of a top-100 player like Jerzy Janowicz of Poland who reached a career best rank of No.14 when he broke through to the semifinals of Wimbledon in 2013.

Having had a taste of the big league, Sumit said that he would return to the clay courts of Europe to compete at the Futures level for some time to reach a rank that would help him compete in the Australian Open.

With Mahesh Bhupathi masterminding the professional career and financial support for Sumit for the last few years, the young boy has been single mindedly tuning up his game, winning three singles and two doubles titles in the ITF men’s circuit. He has been hardly with his parents in Delhi, but Sumit knows that as and when he returns home, he would have given his family a lot of reasons to celebrate.

In the professional grind, the race is always against time.