Sumit Nagal has to add a few more dimensions to his game, says Jaidip Mukerjea

Sumit Nagal and Jaidip Mukerjea (Image: Instagram)

Sumit Nagal, ranked World No. 95 in singles on the ATP computer at the start of this week, has had mixed luck. On Wednesday, India’s top singles player lost a tough match, where he had enough chances against Lorenzo Sonego, in the second round of the ATP 250 Grand Prix Hassan in Marrakech, Morocco. 

After the three-set loss (6-1, 3-6, 4-6) to Sonego, Nagal tweeted his feelings in a short and sweet way. “Tough loss in Marrrakech, time to learn, regroup, move forward,” he said, making it clear how he viewed the result. Nagal had chances aplenty in the third set, when he could have gone up 5-3. That he fluffed those opportunities hurt him.

Clay happens to be Nagal’s favourite surface and this was his first week on it in 2024. This will be important in the coming weeks and months, as there are many more tournaments in the build-up the French Open. Nagal had made the Australian Open main draw through the grind of the qualifiers and won a round in the main draw. There is hope that he can possibly make the French Open main draw if he maintains his ranking within the Top 100. That’s easier said than done, as the dynamic ranking system on the ATP computer does not just factor in a player’s results, but also takes into account what others are doing.

Yes, Nagal can make the main draw of the season’s second Grand Slam on his own, and also hope that he will be on pole position to get a spot in the singles’ draw at the Paris Olympics. Indeed, Nagal and all Indian tennis fans will have to wait till the end of the French Open to see where he figures in the rankings.  Three years ago, at the Tokyo Olympics, Nagal got into the main draw through sheer luck. At that time, Yuki Bhambri had earned his spot for India but was injured. Nagal then got in and competed in Tokyo, though the result was not good. He lost to top gun Daniil Medvedev in the second round, when Tokyo was in Covid-19 lockdown.

The Nagal of 2021 and the Nagal of 2024 are very different versions. He has had a rough ride but worked hard. His results in 2024 have been promising, though it’s premature to say he will be a “medal hopeful”, a phrase which Indian sports fans like to cling to each time the Olympics are round the corner.

Also Read: “Always believed I’m a big-tournament player” – HS Prannoy

RevSportz spoke to Jaidip Mukerjea, the grand old man of Indian tennis, for a better perspective on Nagal. “If you are going to ask me on Nagal, I will be fair and frank,” said the Kolkata-based Mukerjea. “I know he has worked hard and shown good results in 2024 but there is enormous scope for improvement. I see shades of Somdev Devvarman in Nagal, in a sense of being physical and counter-punching from the baseline. However, this is not the best way forward.”

A legend in his era, when he competed in Grand Slams and delivered in the Davis Cup in the company of Ramanathan Krishnan, Mukerjea has followed the exploits of all Indian players over the decades. That includes Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza.

“The point is, if Nagal wants to play from the baseline like Rafael Nadal of the past and engage in rallies of over 20 shots, that’s very hard,” he said. “Nadal was super-fit and it worked. However, the same Nadal cannot produce the same tennis now. I think our own Nagal needs to add a few more dimensions to his game. He needs to have a shot which can hurt his opponent. Against the big players, they will bully you in rallies. Nagal needs to get a good coach who can ensure he develops a shot which can be termed as a winner, and also show variety like a drop shot or add the volley. He cannot be predictable.”

Perhaps the former Davis Cup non-playing captain’s words resonate even more after Nagal lost a match where he had his chances. “See, tennis is getting very physical and the players are strong,” said Mukerjea. “To be right up there, Nagal has to work even more. He has the potential but there is more work to be done.”

Till October 2023, Nagal was struggling for funds. He was morose even before the start of the Asian Games in Hangzhou. Lady luck smiled on him and he found a sponsor in Gatorade. How Nagal plans his next few months till July-August will be watched with bated breath. Perhaps, he could reach out to Mukerjea, one of the chief elders of Indian tennis, for solid advice.

Also Read: Mayank Yadav the X-factor that Lucknow hoped he could be

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *