Most important is to be healthy, says Sumit Nagal, ahead of the Paris Olympics

Sumit Nagal
Sumit Nagal (PC: Sumit Nagal/X)

Sumit Nagal has shown remarkable form in the last 12 to 14 months, emerging as the most improved Indian tennis player. His journey epitomises the never-give-up attitude. Now, Nagal’s main focus is on excelling at the upcoming Paris Olympics. In a candid chat with RevSportz’s Editor-in-Chief, Boria Majumdar, Sumit Nagal spoke opened up at length.

Boria: Sumit, this has been an incredible journey where you have inspired each one of us, but for us, the Olympic Games matter so much. So, tell me about your journey over the last 20 months and what was your feeling after knowing that you have made it for the Paris?

Nagal: First of all, thank you for your kind words. Feeling, I would say, very great, very proud, happy. We were talking about it in 2022 when I started playing post-surgery, we had given ourselves kind of two years saying, listen, this is the reality right now, we are ranked 405, and we have 16-18 months before the Olympics cut comes out.

So, we had to plan everything according to that and to make the cut at the very last week, winning a Challenger and then climbing up the ranking and making sure that I would not be in that frame of mind where I had to wait and see if I get in or not.

I think that was a very proud feeling, not just for me, but for my team, for my family. We worked very hard the last few months and it shows. If you have a goal in your mind, if you have the right people working with you and you have a dream to chase, things can be possible.

Boria: And the last 12 months! Absolute fairytale, one after the other. Tell me a little bit about that journey.

Nagal: Yeah, the most important part is to be healthy because that gives you a chance to play in the tournament that gives you an opportunity to perform, to play big names, big players, top 10, top 20, top 30. And I feel like I have always had a good game. Even when I was playing juniors, I was playing among the best, who are very, very high ranked in the ATP Tour now.

I always felt like it is just the body was not helping much because I was playing a bit, not playing, and then again playing a bit. And then I think the biggest change is where I have played almost last 12 months, injury free. I think that is the biggest change which has happened.

Boria: Next couple of weeks, almost there, Paris sort of breathing down our neck, all of us will be there to cheer for you. But what is the preparation like? What is the plan? Tell me a little bit more about it in detail.

Nagal: As of now, there are three tournaments planned. There is one Challenger, which is right next to my house, where I live in Germany. Then there are two events, one in Sweden, one in Austria. So, everything will depend how I am doing in these tournaments, how many matches I play, how many off days I get. That will lead me into Paris.

Boria: Can you now tell me, is everything back on track, are you satisfied with the kind of support that you have received?

Nagal: When this article came out last year, I think the biggest thing was that I was not playing the Grand Slams. I had missed out on three Grand Slams. So, people who does not follow much tennis, I would like to tell them that the biggest prize money towards tennis is through these Slams. If you do not make it to the Slams, it is a very break-even tour. So, because of that, not making it and now, this year to play all four Grand Slams, it is a huge difference on the financial side.

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Boria: Is everything on track now? Are you satisfied with the support that you are receiving now?

Nagal: Yeah. I have got a lot of support and everything else is on track. Everything is okay. I have got a lot of love, a lot of support, financially, and emotionally, and I think wherever I go, for some reason, I always get support as in, people come to watch, cheer for me. And I think that is one of the best feelings to have.

Boria: I think you have earned it and deserved it. Has there been anything that you have done to your games within the last 12 months, anything that you have added, things that you are now doing differently compared to what you were doing in the past?

Nagal: I think everything has gone up. I am more consistent, moving well, returning well. So, I do not think there is one certain thing and the biggest change outside tennis, I would say, is me being mature on the court. I realise, I have this feel for the sport, that has improved the most. I would say it is just getting better at everything. If I have to give an example, say two years ago, if my forehand was six out of 10 on the, on the average, now I feel like it is more like eight out of 10. So that is how I would feel like my game is, just getting better and better.

Boria: We talk about the importance of mental health in sports so much; mentally, where are you at this point? How challenging has it been mentally for you over the past several years? How significant is mental health for an athlete?

Nagal: I think it is the most important part because if you are not mentally there on the court or whatever sport you want to play, it is very hard to find yourself competing at a very high level. More so, when you are playing against the best athletes in the world, because if you slip even for a minute, the gap is already building. So, for me, the mental part is the most important. I also had a really tough time back in 2022, where I was playing horrendous tennis. That happened because I was not enjoying being on the court.

I was asking myself a lot, why am I getting injured, why am I not playing every second month? There is something. I just came out of a surgery after six, seven months and two tournaments I play, I am injured again. So, there were a lot of dark days, a lot of questioning myself, which was bringing my mood down, but I was happy that I got through it, but also, I believe that every athlete kind of goes through it, sooner or later in their life.

Boria: How important is both sides? Your journey over the last 20 months, injury management, recuperation, convalescing, how important is both sides and the presence of a good team around you?

Nagal: It is very important. I think for me, having a right team or right people to work with you is the first thing. If you do not have that, it is very tough to achieve things you want to achieve. However, you want to say, a mental trainer, is most important.

Sumit Nagal
Sumit Nagal (Source: SAI Media)

Boria: Is there any kind of goals that you are setting or it is one match at a time?

Nagal: One match at a time, because it brings nothing to me if I want to say this and I want to win a medal. And this is the only way I have to do it. I want to go there, to see how, I take it match to match because tennis has become a sport where you have to find solutions on the court. You can play great tennis for 20 minutes and then for next 20 minutes, there is a possibility you do not put a ball  (in play). But that is where you have to come up and find a solution. So, I have always said that I really like to go round by round instead of saying, listen, I need to do this. There is already enough pressure, especially when you are playing an Olympics.

Boria: How does Sumit Nagal deal with this newfound pressure, stardom, expectations, each match is now monitored?

Nagal: You cannot run away from it. Whoever says, hey, listen, I do not get nervous or I do not panic that it is BS, sorry, sorry for the language, but that is not true. Everyone goes through it. It is just how fast you deal with it, how fast you control your nerves and how do you use your nerves in a better way. I think that is where the biggest difference comes in the athletes.

If you watch practice sessions in tennis, everyone is incredible. That is where the different comes in and how do I deal with it? I have few techniques, one of them is, just trying to look at the tennis ball, as much as a closer, closer, try to read what is on the ball. So, you have some sort of focus.

Boria: I was speaking to Rohan (Bopanna) and Sania (Mirza) about you who are good friends of mine and they were sort of overjoyed. You and Rohan are friends, a word on Rohan, and what he has achieved in the last couple of years?

Nagal: Everyone knows what he did last year is incredible. I see him almost every week and we do talk about tennis a lot. I am very happy for him, his family, his team. I know how hard he has worked throughout his life towards the goal to win the Grand Slam, to be No.1 And I am happy that I could see it.

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