On a certain morning last year, Indians woke up to the news of Sumit Nagal doing something big.
Sumit Nagal? Who?
We all checked, and found out that he had just become the first person from the country to win a set against Roger Federer in international tennis.
Sumit Nagal. That’s who.
Playing the first round match against Federer at the US Open, Sumit won the very first set of his Grand Slam career.
And then a year later, at the same tournament, he became the first Indian in 7 years to proceed to the second round.
.@nagalsumit, after seven years,— Amey Deshpande (@SportsZealot07) September 2, 2020
becomes the first Indian to reach the 2nd round of a GrandSlam.
He’ll face the no. 2 seed @ThiemDomi in the 2nd round of the US Open tomorrow! 😎
A good fight expected! #USOpen #SumitNagal https://t.co/UcQuVAgnsh
To say that a lot changed between 2019 and 2020, would be an understatement, but Sumit kept his head down and continued working hard. That is what makes him special.
Now, there is no doubt about the fact that he is a great athlete and will do big things in the future, but here, let us look at the past of the 23-year-old.
Born in Jhajjar (Haryana) and a resident of West Delhi, Sumit is the son of a primary school teacher and a homemaker.
So as one can imagine, the finances were limited in the household. However, that did not stop his parents from enrolling their son in a tennis academy.
Sumit must have been around 8 years old at the time, and had just developed liking for his father’s favourite sport, tennis, leaving behind his early love for cricket.
So, the obvious option was to get him good training. The family soon realised, though, that commitment comes at a cost.
At an age when most kids have fun without a care in the world, Sumit was handling both, his studies and tennis.
But it all paid off when, in a life-changing event, he was spotted by Mahesh Bhupati.
10 years old at the time, Sumit had participated in the Apollo Mission 2018 program, and was one of the few kids from among 1000, to be selected.
In an interesting anecdote from that day, Sumit shares how he grabbed Bhupati’s hand and asked the tennis legend to watch him play.
I was hitting with the other kids and there was a moment where I went to Mahesh and said, “Mr. Bhupathi, could you please look at my game?”, I knew who he was, so I grabbed his hand and asked him to look at my game. That’s the one line that changed my life. If I didn’t tell him this, I would not be sitting here right now.
2 years later, the project got shelved but Sumit had left an indelible mark on Bhupati’s mind and started training at his center in Bengaluru.
Fast forward a few years, the youngster became the 6th Indian to win a junior Grand Slam title in 2015.
He clinched the Wimbledon Boys’ Doubles with Vietnam’s Nam Hoang Ly.
With his career on the right track, Sumit made his Davis Cup debut in 2016, by participating in the World Group Playoff in Spain. And in 2017, he won his maiden ATP Challenger title.
That was when trouble knocked at his door again.
He was suffering from injuries and financial issues also mounted up. Sumit was slowly realising what it takes to become an international athlete.
And that realisation only made him work harder. Around this time, he also got help from the Virat Kohli foundation, which solved the money matters.
The only thing he had to do, now, was to focus on his career again. He did that, and how.
In a matter of months, he had already created history by facing and defeating (in one set), the best in the history of the game.
So even though he finds himself out of the US Open this year after a defeat to Dominic Thiem in round 2, Sumit has a lot to take pride in.