What's in an alphabet - Nagal versus Federer at the U.S. Open

In 2004, 17-year-old Rafael Nadal had upset two-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer in the third round of Miami Open; on Monday, the meeting with Sumit Nagal in the U.S. Open may remind him of the Spaniard.

Sumit Nagal is financially supported by JSW Sports and he is currently based in Germany.   -  FILE PHOTO/ R. RAGU


Roger Federer was a 22-year-old two-time Grand Slam champion — with victories at Wimbledon and Australian Open — when he came up against the precocious teenage talent of Rafael Nadal in the third round of Miami Open in 2004.

With a straight sets 6-3, 6-3 demolition of the man, Nadal launched a career that would allow him to eventually tussle for the title of G.O.A.T. with the great Swiss.

Fast forward to a decade-and-a-half, the on-court rivalry and the deep friendship off it continues to divide friends and families when they sit down to watch the stalwarts in action.

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer (right).   -  FILE PHOTO/ GETTY IMAGES


But come this Monday, as the 139th edition of the U.S. Open kicks off in New York, Federer — now 38 and at the twilight of his career — will meet another young boy, who is one alphabet and a lifetime away from Nadal.

In his first ever Grand Slam singles match, 22-year-old Sumit Nagal will be up against the man he idolises. The legend may remember Miami 2004 when he glances at the scoreboard.

Is the impossible, possible?

Breaking into the top 200, qualifying for the Grand Slam and then, thoughts of upsetting a man whose count of trophies is only two less than his age is a tale of mixed emotions for Nagal.

But young men with little to lose are dangerous. As Paul Coelho reminds us: “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” And the fear of failure is something the arrogance of youth brushes aside with disdain.

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Nagal is a special talent, identified at the age of 10 by Mahesh Bhupathi. The senior pro took special care of his needs and requirements. He is financially supported by JSW Sports and he is currently based in Germany for training purpose.

The only significant notches on his belt thus far have been the Challenger Trophy he won in 2017 and the Wimbledon Juniors Doubles title in 2015.

It is still early days for Nagal but it takes one magnificent day of tennis to rise among the greats.

Ask 15-year-old Cori Gauff — who beat idol Venus Williams in her maiden Grand Slam appearance this year at the Wimbledon or Alison Riske — who upset top seed and French Open champion Ash Barty at the same tournament.

Exactly a year ago, Simona Halep became the first women’s top seed to ever lose in the first round of the U.S. Open. The giant killer was Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi who won 6-2, 6-4.

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Last year, Federer had lost to Australia’s John Milman in the fourth round; at the same Arthur Ashe stadium, where he will meet the Indian youngster.

When Nagal takes the court amid cheers from billions of Indians, he will seek to emulate the man from Mallorca who changed tennis history 15 years ago. In 2019, with Federer on the other side of the net, Miami and New York will stand separated by an alphabet and connected by a dream.

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