Sumit Nagal struggling for financial aid despite reaching career-high ranking

The budding tennis star is surprised that despite zooming up close to the top-100 in world rankings, support has not swelled enough.

Promising show: Sumit Nagal returns to Roger Federer during the first round of the U.S. Open.   -  AP

Despite reaching a career-high ranking of 135, Sumit Nagal is still struggling for financial support.

Thanks to his recent performances, Sumit has consolidated his status as India's No. 2 singles player after Prajnesh Gunneswaran. After the US Open high — he took a set off Roger Federer — Nagal finished runner-up at the ATP Challenger in Banja Luka, and won the ATP Challenger in Buenos Aires.

However, during his win in Buenos Aires, Sumit had neither his coach nor his physio by his side, due to lack of funds.

‘All alone’

“I was all alone here. No one was with me to help out. One way, it has been great that I have been playing good tennis but it’s not easy to do it and I’m really sad,” Nagal told PTI from Buenos Aires.

“The path is lonely despite doing well at the US Open. I qualified at 22 and led a set against Roger Federer but it still has not made impact anywhere. It’s really sad nobody is coming up to invest into tennis,” he added.

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Nagal used to receive funds under the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS), but he was later dropped from the list of beneficiaries. The scheme offers a monthly financial aid of ₹50,000 to those considered medal prospects at the Olympics. As of now, only Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan, the doubles specialists, receive support through the scheme. None of India’s singles players figure in it.

‘Special talent’

Nagal not getting enough financial support is a failure of the system, according to Mahesh Bhupathi, the multiple Grand Slam champion. Bhupathi had mentored Nagal after having hand-picked him from a tennis clinic. “Sumit is obviously a special talent and it shows with what he has done in the last six months. When you see talent like him who are not nurtured and supported keeping in mind the coming Olympics or the next one, I consider it a colossal failure of the system,” Bhupathi said.

“Then no one has the right to ask later why India doesn’t produce champions,” he added.

Mahesh Bhupathi: "When you see talent like [Nagal] who are not nurtured and supported keeping in mind the coming Olympics or the next one, I consider it a colossal failure of the system." Photo: PTI

 

Nagal received financial aid from the Virat Kohli foundation but it isn’t enough. “They are providing a good amount but as you can see in tennis you need a team like all the top 100 players have coach, fitness, physio, etc. which adds up,” said Bhupathi.

The estimated required annual budget for Nagal is around EUR 220,000 (₹1.5 crore).

Nagal is surprised that despite zooming up close to the top-100 in world rankings, support has not swelled enough. “I still have the exact budget which I had in 2018 when I was ranked 350. It’s that when I needed the most which is right now, I see people turning around and walking away.”

‘Only an athlete can understand talent’

Bhupathi is well-connected and has been trying hard to get sponsors on board. But with corporate support not coming, Nagal has decided to knock the doors of those who know something about creating champions. “Well, only an athlete can understand talent in my opinion. So now I am trying to route it through [P. Gopi Chand] and Malav and hopefully they can advise the best way forward,” he said.

According to Nagal, people only make promises but when the time comes, they look the other side. “I am still stuck. I have to find a way to get my coach on tour to help me. Most of the tournaments I did in summer was by myself. It’s funny how they say if you need any help let us know and when you actually ask them or write an email they don’t even bother replying to you,” he said.