If you are a fan of some of the unforgettable Hollywood classics from the ‘40s and ‘50s, you would certainly remember this memorable dialogue of Sam Spade played by none other than the legendary Humphrey Bogart in what is known as Hollywood’s first-ever film noir. “The stuff that dreams are made of”. 

 What Spade uttered 78 years ago, hovered around the minds of hundreds of thousands of tennis aficionados in India when they saw 22-year-old Sumit Nagal’s devil-may-care-attitude against none other than the Swiss maestro, Roger Federer in their US Open First Round encounter at the iconic Arthur Ashe stadium. 

The Haryana-born boy and his stellar performance were more than enough to spark a debate on Indian tennis, how much it has progressed over the years, and whether Indian tennis lovers should dream beyond doubles categories from now on. Although Nagal went down valiantly to Federer, his first-set victory against the 20-time-Grand Slam champion has suddenly got everyone talking. No wonder, people from all walks of life, and not just sportspersons and politicians, kept themselves busy talking about one man – Sumit Nagal. 

About two and a half decades ago, in September 1995, when Leander Paes downed world no. 7 Goran Ivanisevic in their Davis Cup singles tie in New Delhi, it turned out to be the greatest victory by an Indian singles’ player to this day. Although the likes of Premjit Lall and Vijay Amritraj beat the likes of Ray Ruffels and Jimmy Connors in the singles during their heydays, Paes’ heroics against Ivanisevic made him the star of Indian tennis for a long time and that win helped him hog all the limelight. Nagal, who was ranked 190 when he slugged it out against Federer in the first set, wasn’t even born back then. 

Nagal’s rise to fame hasn’t been easy as the 22-year-old has embroiled himself in controversies time and again, both on and off court. It was in 2017 that Nagal caught the attention of the then India’s Davis Cup non-playing captain, Anand Amritraj, after the former impressed the latter with his debut against Spain. However, he was soon dropped for the New Zealand tie due to serious breach of discipline. 

During India’s Davis Cup tie against Korea in July 2019, Nagal skipped his morning practice sessions due to hangovers after late nights of alcohol binging. When India took on Rafael Nadal-led Spain, he reportedly brought his girlfriend to the national capital despite not being granted permission by the All India Tennis Association. These transgressions led him to face the heat from the AITA and he was soon dropped from the Davis Cup squad. 

Two years down the line, Nagal played against the man widely recognised as the “Greatest of All Time”, and his transformation from controversy’s favourite child to the next big thing in Indian Tennis is for everyone to see. 

From April to June this year, after having recovered from his shoulder injury, Nagal participated in as many as eight tournaments on the Challenger Circuit and made it to five semi-finals and a quarterfinal. 

However, while we continue to celebrate Nagal’s sensational and spirited show against Roger Federer at the Flushing Meadows, let us not forget AITA’s administrative mess that has left the future of Indian tennis looking quite bleak. 

Over the years, thanks to its lackadaisical attitude, India’s national tennis body has not only failed to scout the larger pool of Indian talent but has also cared very little for talented players such as Sumit Nagal, or the likes of Yuki Bhambri or even Somdev Devvarman in the past. For instance, the Indian Tennis side did not have a team physiotherapist and a coach until 2013, when the then Davis Cup team staged a revolt and forced the AITA to get their acts together. Not to mention the Indian government’s apathy against the game of tennis as well; Prajnesh Gunneswaran, India’s top singles player, is not even considered for the much-talked-about Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS), under which an athlete gets Rs. 50,000 per month. 

Shortly after Sumit Nagal made every Indian extremely proud by clinching the first set against Roger Federer, the AITA was quick enough to congratulate the 22-year-old. Yet, the question that remains – did AITA play a big role in his success? The answer is a big no; Sumit Nagal’s success has been mostly due to the tournaments he participated in, outside the country, throughout this year. 

“I got up in the morning and was glued to the television screen to watch him play and he took on against the man who is widely considered as the be-all-and-end-all of world tennis till date. Let’s hope he continues performing well and make India proud,” Suresh Nagal, father of Sumit, told The Tilak Chronicle when he was contacted on phone. 

Sumit Nagal’s show against Roger Federer has, therefore, sparked the tennis debate in India, and rightfully so. The 22-year-old surely has a long way to go, but the administrative mess in Indian Tennis ensures that he has an uphill task in hand as well.

Saptak Ghosh

Saptak Ghosh is a Sports Management Professional, Writer, Solo-Traveller, History-buff and a Conservationist.

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.

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