India’s Sumit Nagal came from a set down to beat Brazil’s Joao Menezes 5-7, 6-4, 6-3 in the third round of qualifying on Friday to make it to the main draw of the US Open. His first-round opponent in his first-ever Grand Slam tournament: Roger Federer on the US Open’s most-historic show court, the Arthur Ashe, under lights.
And something like that was exactly what he had wished for. “It’s what you look for, it’s what you want when you are young,” Nagal told the website WorldTennisMagazine.com immediately after beating Menezes. “You would say, ‘I wish I will play Roger one day. I wish I will play Rafa one day.’ That’s what you wish for. I will be very, very happy if I get that. I would be super pumped.”
Nagal said he played to get such chances to compete at the highest level. “Nobody wants to play for a Challenger or a Futures,” he said. “You want to play ATP and you want to play big names.”
That wish will now be fulfilled on Monday. Meanwhile, here’s a primer on the 25-year-old from Jhajjar, Haryana:
* Nagal became only the fourth Indian player to qualify for a Grand Slam singles event in the last six years. Somdev Devvarman cracked his way into the 2013 US Open, Yuki Bhambri featured in all four Grand Slams in 2018 and Prajnesh Gunneswaran played at the 2019 Australian Open. This is the first time since 1998 that two Indians — Prajnesh is the other — find themselves in the Grand Slam main draw. Nagal is the youngest Indian to make the main draw.
* Last year, he competed in the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon qualifiers but could not win a round.
* He’s currently placed No. 190 in the world, his career-best ranking. In November 2017, Nagal won his maiden ATP title in Bengaluru, which fetched him 100 ranking points and a No. 225 ranking.
* In 2015, Nagal won the boys’ doubles title partnering Vietnam’s Nam Hoang Ly at Wimbledon. In doing so, he became only the sixth Indian to win a junior Grand Slam title after Ramanathan Krishnan, Ramesh Krishnan, Leander Paes, Sania Mirza and Bhambri.
* In September 2016, he made his Davis Cup debut for India in the World Group playoff tie against Spain in New Delhi. Following a spirited start, he lost that dead rubber against Marc Lopez after developing breathing trouble that forced him to seek a medical timeout. He returned to take a 3-0 lead but promptly lost the next six games and the match.
* Nagal dabbled in cricket as a kid before his father, a retired Army havildar, got him to switch to an individual sport. Nagal was enrolled into the Delhi Development Authority tennis academy when he was seven.
* He was handpicked by Mahesh Bhupathi following the Apollo Tyres Mission Grand Slam 2018 programme conducted in 2007. The story goes that Nagal was upset after one of his friends, whom he used to beat in practice, was picked ahead of him. Nagal went up to Bhupathi and asked why he wasn’t picked. After that Bhupathi watched him play and was impressed by what he saw.