For Sumit Nagal, 2020 was a year of contrasting memories. At the US Open in early September, he became the first Indian in seven years to win a Grand Slam main draw singles match. Three weeks later, at the French Open on his beloved clay, he crashed out in round one of qualifying.
As he begins his 2021 season at the Murray River Open ATP 250 in Melbourne, starting Monday, ahead of the Australian Open where he has been awarded a wild card, the 23-year-old is keen on drawing the right lessons from last year and making his trip Down Under special.
“I have never had a good result here (Australia),” Nagal says. “So, I want to create some good memories.
“Whenever I played juniors or qualifiers, I was never in great shape mentally or physically.
“It is different this time and am looking forward.”
Nagal may have lost to eventual champion Dominic Thiem at Flushing Meadows, but the match held important cues.
“It told me where I stood and how much I had to work to get to that level. Thiem is not a 6-feet-6-inch guy who serves bombs.
“He is a very hard-working player who has built his game around that strength and won a Slam. It was eye-opening.”
So was the defeat in Paris, but in a completely different sense.
“It really really hurt me. I was expecting a lot. So, I couldn’t forget that loss. That was a mistake. I kept the loss with me and that cost me.”
According to former India No. 1 Somdev Devvarman, who is now part of Nagal’s coaching team and whose record the World No. 138 emulated in New York, it is important to ensure that the youngster is “physically, emotionally and mentally” up there.
“He is young and just starting to taste success,” says Somdev. “Going by the current trend in tennis, he has got at least another 10 years.
“So, it’s not just about getting results but doing things the right way and being successful for a longer time.”
Nagal has set off in that direction in earnest. “Compared to two years before, I am serving better, hitting my forehand bigger and my backhand cleaner.
“ I have worked a lot on my serve. I am not a big guy and I really need to have a good % of serves in and be ready to attack the return.
“I run a lot and run heavy. At the end of last year, I had to stop a match because of an injury. So, I am focusing on my body a lot as well.”
If Nagal can manage to get his mind and body in sync, the next two weeks in Australia can indeed be memorable.
(Australian Open 2021 will be aired live on Sony Six, Sony Ten 2 and Sony Ten 3 from February 8 to 21).
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