Sumit Nagal was undoubtedly the most improved Indian player in 2019. Stealing a set against Roger Federer in his first-ever Gram Slam main draw appearance at US Open, handing Pakistan’s Hufaiza Mohammed Rehman a thrashing for his maiden Davis Cup win and five semifinal appearances at Challenger tournaments saw him climb 233 players for a career-best World No. 127.
He also earned a direct entry into the main draw of Tata Open Maharashtra and will be the first Indian in action on Monday at the Mhalunge Balewadi Stadium in Pune. He will, however, not have it easy. He is being pitted against Serbia’s Viktor Troicki in the first round.
The Serbian finished his final qualifying match just in time to see his compatriot Novak Djokovic lift the Australian Open trophy. Troicki recently partnered Djokovic to help Team Serbia win the inaugural ATP Cup.
In the other main draw attraction for India on Monday, Ramkumar Ramanathan will face seventh seed Salvaore Caruso of Italy.
Talking about this year’s draw, Nagal denied that the field was weaker this year. “I wouldn't say it's so much weaker you know, last year was also the cut was around 100. It's always been around a 100. This time, maybe three or four guys are outside 100. It’s not easy. Once you step on to the court, whether you're a 100 or 120 (World ranking), I don't think it matters so much,” he said.
Nagal, meanwhile, is set on his 2020 aspirations. “First, it’s the 100. April 1st week is when we will know the cut for the French Open, so that is going to be the first goal and then it’s going to be the Olympics. I think the goal was always to be healthy and to break into the top 100 as soon as possible. Last year I started maybe around 300 and now I'm starting it at 120s. But the goal still stays the same.
Nagal, who prefers playing on clay courts, has decided to play more in hard court this year.
“You know, I have to develop my game on the hardcourt as well. It's the right thing to do right now. I'm still young, learning. So, for me, picking hard court over clay court, it's something big. Normally, if someone asked me what I'm comfortable playing, I would say going to South America but right now it is about having tournaments in India.
“I'm going to be on the hardcourts till the end of March. Last year, I didn’t play much, I just have to keep in mind that a lot of big events are in hard courts, so I have to be able to play on at least two surfaces. Apart from a slam or two and a few other tournaments, it’s all hard courts. So that is why I have pushed myself to play the first three months on this surface,” he said.
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