Just two seasons ago, Sumit Nagal was returning to pro tennis following hip surgery. Outside the Top 500 of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, even falling to No. 638 in October 2022, Nagal was admittedly far from where he is today, a career-high No. 98.
His dedication and perseverance throughout his journey is now reaping rewards. The 26-year-old captured the ATP Challenger Tour title in Chennai on Sunday to become the 10th Indian to crack the Top 100 of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings.
“It was the most emotional day for me. As a kid everyone wants to be a Top 100 player. Everyone dreams of having that double-digit ranking,” Nagal told ATPTour.com. “To be able to do this in front of the Indian crowd, I don't think I could've asked for a better place.”
To understand how Nagal reached this point takes revisiting his past. At age eight, Nagal started playing tennis and just two years later he attended a tryout in Bangalore for Mahesh Bhupathi’s academy. The Jhajjar native Nagal asked the former doubles World No. 1 to observe his game, words that forever changed his life as the two remain close today.
“The one guy who has been behind me since day one is Mahesh Bhupathi, another legend from Indian tennis. He has been my mentor, manager, brother, father figure,” Nagal said. “He has played so many roles that I can't even [name]. He has been a big part of the journey. There was a time in 2010 when I quit playing tennis for two or three months and I remember it was only Mahesh and my family pushing me to play this sport again.”
In 2021, Nagal underwent right hip surgery and after not competing for six months, he returned to the ATP Challenger Tour, but not without more turbulence. In his fourth event since surgery, Nagal suffered a tear in his left oblique. The following month, Nagal lost 0-6, 0-6 in Luedenscheid Challenger qualifying, a defeat that sent his mindset into a downward spiral.
“I was in a very dark place where I was not enjoying tennis, couldn’t find motivation,” Nagal told ATPTour.com last year. “I was always asking myself, ‘Why me? I didn’t play for seven or eight months, then I play again for four weeks and I’m out again for six weeks. What else do I need to do?’ You start asking, ‘What do I need to do to get rid of this?’ I couldn’t find answers.”
What an emotional day! Stoked to have cracked the Top 100 Ranking. Feels surreal to achieve it in my home country 🇮🇳 Extremely proud of my team for working hard everyday and giving ourselves a chance to be where we are today— Sumit Nagal (@nagalsumit) February 11, 2024
Three Challenger trophies in the past 12 months have propelled Nagal more than 400 spots in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. He is the first Indian to crack the Top 100 since Prajnesh Gunneswaran in 2019.
Though trials have been prevalent, Nagal has learned valuable lessons along the way.
“Definitely be patient. Second thing, to have good people around you. Because if you are going through tough times and you're struggling yourself, good people will come in handy,” Nagal said. “For me, my team, my friends, my family. Especially in the 2022 season, I was struggling a lot there. You keep your head down there and try to avoid negative things.
“I tried to keep it very simple. I was just trying to play tennis, tennis, tennis. Hit the ball, hit the ball, hit the ball. A few months later, once you start finding your rhythm and once you are in a better place, things will get better the longer and harder you try.”
It has been a historic start to the 2024 season for Nagal, who last month qualified for the Australian Open and upset Alexander Bublik in the opening round. He became the first Indian since 1989 to beat a seeded player at a major.
Boasting a 9-2 record across all levels this year, Nagal hopes this hot start is just the beginning.
“Next is to stay in the Top 100,” said Nagal, while cracking a laugh. “I'm playing two more Challengers in India. I will focus on that, try to play as many good matches as possible. Then carry on the season, try to stay fit, that will be the biggest key. It's an Olympic year. It's very, very big for me and my country so I would love to be a part of it, represent my country and see how it goes."