Roger Federer of Switzerland exchanges greetings with Sumit Nagal
Roger Federer of Switzerland exchanges greetings with Sumit Nagal (right) of India after their men’s singles first-round match at the US Open in New York on Monday. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: The tennis fraternity in India and beyond has hailed youngster Sumit Nagal after the 22-year-old player turned heads to take a set off the legendary Roger Federer in their first-round match at the US Open in New York on Monday.

Playing against the Swiss master at the Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York, Nagal suddenly became “the Indian kid who has taken a set off the great Roger Federer” despite losing 6-4, 1-6, 2-6, 4-6 against the 20-time Grand Slam champion.

This is a great achievement, not just for the player, but for his coaching staff as well.

- Mahesh Bhupathi | Former 12-time Grand Slam doubles champion

The Haryana lad wrote his own bit of history as he became only the fifth Indian male player to feature in a Grand Slam singles main draw during this decade. Currently ranked No 190, he joined the likes of Somdev Devvarman, Yuki Bhambri, Saketh Myneni and Prajnesh Gunneswaran as the only ones who have played at the Majors in singles between 2010 and now.

“I think this is a great achievement, not just for the player, but for his coaching staff as well. They have worked as a perfect team to make so many improvements this year,” former 12-time Grand Slam doubles champion Mahesh Bhupathi told Gulf News.

“Holding his own against one of the greatest players in the world is no mean feat. But Sumit went out there and showed incredible composure,” he added.

SPO 190827 SUMIT NAGAL-1566921071289
Sumit Nagal returns to Roger Federer during the first round of the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York, Monday, Aug. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Image Credit: AP

Managed by Globosport, Bhupathi was responsible for selecting Nagal in 2005 in the first batch of children as part of the ‘Mahesh Bhupathi Apollo Tyres Mission 2018’. After three years at Bhupathi’s academy in Bengaluru, Nagal shifted to Toronto and then to the Schuttler Waske Tennis University in Offenbach, Germany.

“Even though it’s kind of what you live for, you dream about, playing on the big stage on the show court. He was the underdog and I think he used that to his advantage. But after that first set, he gave that little bit of room for Federer to move in and take control,” Gunneswaran noted.

“I’m sure it’s a hell of an experience for him playing against a player like Federer in front of a full stadium. We are tennis players due to this very reason,” Gunneswaran added.

Monday was also the first time in more than two decades that India had more than one player in the main draw of a Grand Slam singles, with Gunneswaran losing to world number five Daniil Medvedev in an earlier match.

Even when Federer was on the brink of victory, Nagal refused to roll over while earning four of his 13 breakpoint opportunities in the final game as the Swiss served for the match in the fourth set. “You’ve got to give it to him. He was solid out there against one of the best players of the generation,” Bhupathi noted.

Indian Davis Cup coach Zeeshan Ali, who has seen the growth of Nagal through the years, was happy with the way the youngster came through the qualifying rounds. “That was tough. It was like playing a mini-tournament. And then to face one of the best players in the main draw could be a close toss-up between a dream match or a nightmare,” Zeeshan said.

“He was nervous but he handled the pressure well. He gave his best knowing fully well that there was only so much he could do against Federer,” he added.

“He’s good no doubt, but he also needs to be consistent. That’s the only way he can progress into the top-50. He has found his rhythm after today’s match and hopefully he can take this forward.”