Krishnan

Sumit Nagal Joins Prajnesh Gunneswaran In Representing India In U.S. Open Men’s Singles, The Most Since 1985

by Sharada Rajagopalan
@rsharada22

It has taken Sumit Nagal near about four years to make it to the main draw of a major since his success in the junior circuit in the same event category. In 2015, the then 18-year-old won the junior boys’ doubles title at Wimbledon with Vietnam’s Ly Hoang Nam. In 2019, he will play Roger Federer in the first round of the US Open as a qualifier.

In these four years, Nagal’s career widely seesawed with injuries and poor results forcing him to take step backs. These not only affected his professional time-line but also curtailed Indian aspirations that longed to see more names among its tennis-playing ranks make it to the biggest event of the sport.

From the Indian perspective, it also seemed as though injuries would mark another promising name adding Nagal to the likes of Somdev Devvarman, Saketh Myneni and Yuki Bhambri, each with injury scars of his own. Devvarman retired in 2017 but Myneni and Bhambri are still out there fighting past their own physique as much as trying to defeat on-court opponents.

In Nagal’s main-draw debuting at the US Open, there is an unmistakeable cutting through of the prevalent gloom for Indian tennis. For once, there will not be just one home favourite for a nation’s people to root for what with Prajnesh Gunneswaran already taking his place as a direct entry in the 128-man draw.

This will be the first time in almost 21 years that there will be two Indians in the men’s singles main draw at a major tournament. Prior to this, it was in 1998 that Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi had played in the Wimbledon men’s singles main draw. The 22-year-old Haryana native who made it possible was less than a year old when that happened.

In a chat with Randy Walker, the world No. 190 spoke about the milestone he had accomplished. “There was Somdev and then you know there was a time where Somdev and Rohan (Bopanna) was playing singles a bit ago,” the New Delhi resident said. “And since then there was not too much happening, then we had Yuki coming up making main draws which is nice. Then, two years nothing happening and now we had Prajnesh playing well, making all main draws. Was very nice. And then we always had Ramkumar playing qualies and now I’ve secured a ranking where I can play all the qualies. So at least we have two between us playing singles instead of one guy playing main draw and then nothing coming up for 2-3 years.”

In his conversation with Walker, Nagal also mentioned about the Amritraj brothers and the father-son duo of Ramanathan and Ramesh Krishnan who had upheld the Indian banner aloft for a long while. However, his mentioning them was almost in passing as though these were merely names for him. It is easy to understand why.
The year 1998, despite its distance from 2019 is still within memory’s reach. More so, because (in a manner of speaking) both Paes and Bhupathi are still Nagal’s colleagues. Paes is still active on the ATP Tour while Bhupathi is the Indian Davis Cup captain. As regards the older generation, especially speaking about Vijay Amritraj and Ramesh Krishnan as contenders at the US Open, the calendar needs to be turned back to 34 years, specifically to the 1985 edition of the Slam.

The year in question turned out to be the last time that two Indian men were in the singles main draw of the season’s final Major. The length of this interlude contextualised the chasm greeting India’s past, present and future vis-à-vis its contribution to the tennis world. In that, no matter how great its past was, it was not susceptible from being forgotten or worse still, only meriting a passing glance.

This is the biggest upshot to Nagal and Gunneswaran being in the main draw at Flushing Meadows in 2019. That theirs is not merely a long-delayed continuation of India’s tennis ambitions but also a viable map to monitor the Indian tennis trajectory hereafter.