US Open: Sumit Nagal through to second round

Sumit Nagal becomes the first Indian men's singles player in seven years to make it past the first round of a Grand Slam.

Sumit Nagal had made his Grand Slam debut at the same tournament a year ago.   -  Reuters

Sumit Nagal’s opening act on tennis’s biggest stage came against Roger Federer at the US Open last year, a performance rather well remembered, for he snatched a set away from the Swiss maestro.

Come Thursday, he will have a shot at a worthy follow-up against Dominic Thiem after the Indian claimed a 6-1, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 win over American Bradley Klahn on Tuesday, his first-ever success in the main draw of a Major and also the first by an Indian in seven years since Somdev Devvarman did so in the 2013 US Open.

 

“It was not easy,” Nagal said after beating Klahn, who was once ranked as high as 63. “I [still] needed four sets. I played a tournament before coming here (Challenger in Prague) while he hadn't, and that made the difference. I thought I played pretty smart tennis and the result is there [to show].”

During the five-month lockdown period, the World No. 124 stayed put in Europe and focused single-mindedly on improving his fitness and serve, both aspects that shone in the opening round. 

In what was only his third best-of-five-set match ever, he held on pretty well, landing 80 percent of his first serves in, winning 77 percent of those points and conceding just two break-point opportunities.

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“Winning your first match at a Slam is very important,” said Somdev. “Last year he was playing very well but drew Roger. This time he got in and took advantage. He has to get a lot of credit for the way he has improved in the last 18 months or so, all the way up from being [ranked] in the 350s. We now hope he plays well and pushes Thiem to the maximum.”

Thiem, the World No. 3 and tournament's second seed, will be a daunting opponent. Where Nagal thrived against Federer at the Arthur Ashe Stadium in front of 23,000 fans, the motivation this time has to come from within. But the 23-year-old is upbeat.

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“There is nothing to lose. It’s a great match to play and I am excited,” he said. “Both of us haven’t had much practise on hard courts. Exhibitions [that Thiem has played] are different because you do not compete for real points. So, it's going to be the same for both of us.”

On his part, Thiem, who overcame Jaume Munar after the latter retired when two sets down, refused to take Nagal lightly. “I actually saw his full match last year against Roger. He was playing well. I remember he had an amazing forehand, like a really, really good one. So maybe I'll see some of those highlights and some from the latest match.”

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