Sumit Nagal Rips Into AITA, with Good Reason

Sumit Nagal
Sumit Nagal (Source: X)

Indian tennis ace Sumit Nagal registered a massive win over Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan in the first round of the Australian Open in Melbourne on Tuesday, and then launched a tirade against the All India Tennis Association (AITA). For Nagal to have outsmarted the World No.31 was a big deal, after having come through the hard grind of qualifiers. Ideally, Nagal should not have been slogging to play the qualifiers before the Australian Open. Call it bloated egos or one-upmanship, but the AITA refused to swing a wild card for India’s top singles player as he refused to play in the Davis Cup tie away to Pakistan next month.

Nagal’s refusal was a one-off. He has been a hero of many Davis Cup wins in the past. But then, to hold it against him and not try and get him a wild card smacked of vendetta. Nagal has faced trying moments in his career, so his outrage against the AITA are justified. “If you look at it, there was a time where we had a lot of singles players playing in the Grand Slams,” he told the media on Tuesday. “I feel like we are missing quite a bit in the last few years and my goal is to change that in the next years.

“When I stop tennis, whenever I stop tennis, I hope I can put an impact on the country where we can change the system and have people playing in the singles draw as well.” Asked what he felt needed to be done, Nagal came up with an ace. “A lot of things,” he said. “First, (we need) to have more tournaments in the country, bring coaches in, better facilities. Just a better system, I would say. Why are all tennis players, singles I’m talking about, going outside India?”


This was hardly the first time an Indian player was speaking out against the AITA. Rewind to the earlier generations of Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi, Sania Mirza and even Rohan Bopanna, and there has been no “tennis system” in India. Both Sania and Bopanna have told RevSportz in the last two months how the system needed a reboot. A doubles specialist like Bopanna took it upon himself to launch a programme for improving doubles in the country.

“If I am going to wait for the AITA to improve doubles, it’s never going to happen,” said Bopanna last month. In the good old days of Paes, Bhupathi, SomdevDevvarman, Yuki Bhambri and a few others, they tried their best to do well on the ATP Tour as well as the lower-rung Challengerevents.Paes and Bhupathi worked hard enough to feature in Grand Slams, first in singles, then doubles, but all the effort which went in was their own. And in Davis Cup play as well, they slogged, as the Amritraj brothers,Vijay and Anand, had done earlier.

Ramesh Krishnan was another star singles player who pursued his ambition on his own. The mind goes back to the India-Australia Davis Cup semi-final tie in Chandigarh in 1993. At that time, Paes and Bhupathi were to be paid Rs 20 lakhs each as prize money from previous Davis Cup ties. The AITA bosses, bless their souls – the late RK Khanna and Ramesh Desai – treated them like beggars. These two officials made the players cry before the big tie in 1993, and then there was a 40 per cent tax deduction on the prize money.

Once India lost that tie to Australia, the late Naresh Kumar, former non-playing captain from Kolkata, thundered: “Players cannot be on empty bellies and play for the country.” After that, Naresh quit the captaincy and was succeeded by Jaidip Mukherjea. Back to the tennis system – there was, and is none in India. The AITA has done nothing for the players, and each one rose on his or her merit.

The bronze medal won by Paes at the Atlanta Olympics was also his own effort. He and Bhupathi ran Challenger events in India through Paes N Sport in Kolkata and Globosport. The AITA were just cheerleaders. That was the reason why, even three decades after these boys shone for India, one more soldier waged war against the AITA. Devvarman called the AITA’s bluff over a decade ago. Given the way the AITA functions, nothing changed. Player are lowest priority.What matters to the AITA is go. Anil Jain, the current president, and Anil Dhupar, the secretary, do not even engage with the players.

The tournament structure which Nagal referred to is absent, which is why players have to go abroad and play – by begging, borrowing or stealing. Making both ends meet is very hard. Nagal had to go around with his palms extended last year, before Gatorade came to support him, bang in the middle of the Asian Games in Hangzhou. It is well known, that of all the racquet sports in India, the governance of tennis is the worst. Badminton, squash and table tennis have witnessed more success.

In 1996, the ATP came to India with a Tour event. The first edition was held in New Delhi before Chennai became its home in 1997. After over 21 years, the event was moved to Pune. From the 2024 calendar, the tournament is off the ATP programme. This ATP event saw Paes, Bhupathi, Bopanna, Bhambri and Devvarman shine. Sadly, it’s all over now. If Nagal is not celebrating his win and slamming the AITA, please understand his pain and agony. There is just no way champions can be produced when there is nothing resembling a tennis system in India. Men like the Amritrajs and the Krishnans tried their bit, in Madras (now Chennai). But then, as now, the AITA stayed in sleep mode.

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