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‘Federer, Nadal, Djokovic didn’t play Davis Cup for years but that doesn’t make them a bad person’: Sumit Nagal

‘Federer, Nadal, Djokovic didn’t play Davis Cup for years but that doesn’t make them a bad person’: Sumit Nagal

Sumit Nagal, India’s No. 1 singles tennis player, is among the two who decided against travelling to Pakistan for India’s Davis Cup tie in February 2024. While “safety” was his primary concern, Nagal also stressed on the importance of improving his ranking by June so that he gets an automatic qualification for the Paris Olympics. The decision subsequently left officials in the All India Tennis Association (AITA) disappointed while national coach and Davis Cup team coach, Zeeshan Ali was left utterly baffled at the younger generation putting more weight behind their ATP rankings than putting themselves forward for national duty. Although, the former Asian Games gold medallist outlined the need for AITA to adapt to changing times, Nagal emphasised on “personal preferences” as he cited the examples of the Big Three – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. The 26-year-old said that the legends have often skipped Davis Cup through their illustrious career yet none of their intentions were ever questioned.

India's Sumit Nagal has refused to travel to Pakistan for Davis Cup tie(PTI)
India’s Sumit Nagal has refused to travel to Pakistan for Davis Cup tie(PTI)

Speaking to HT Digital, Nagal, who is part of season 5 of the Tennis Premier League, which kicks off from Tuesday onwards in Pune, talked about the league, his 2023 season and the need of an initiative in singles tennis for India reminiscent of Rohan Bopanna’s doubles project. Here are excerpts…

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Q) Probably your first experience in a tennis league. How excited are you? Any pressure of being the most expensive player at the event?

I am very excited to be a part of the Tennis Premiere League. It’s going to be absolutely fun and great for Indian tennis.

No I don’t think (price tag will be a pressure). You play every match with some kind of pressure if that’s with ATP matches, Davis cup or some other special event.

Q) It has been a long season for you. You could have taken an off or got into some off-season routines. What made you opt for this league?

I am on a break right now, unfortunately with tennis you get such limited weeks as holidays. My first week in the offseason will be starting at the same time as the league(laughs)

Q) There is also the financial part of it as well, being part of these leagues?

Yes, the league is doing a good job to help the players as much as possible. It’s not an easy task to get funding for tennis in India so hats off to them and the sponsors to come out and do this.

Q) 3 months back you had opened up on your financial issues and you received support for a lot of people. ATP has also launched a ‘Baseline’ scheme to provide financial support to top 250 players starting from 2024. Are you aware of that? What is your take on the scheme?

It’s a good start but I highly doubt it will be useful. The milestone they have set is very low.

Q) Talking about your performance, how would you describe your 2023 season?

It was a strong year of course, especially when I look back at my previous two years where I had a surgery and fell sick multiple times due to Covid. I wanted to finish the year strong but I struggled a bit with sickness towards the end but feeling good now.

Q) Last year, no Indian made it to the qualifiers at the Australian Open for the first time since 2017. With financial bit sorted, and you being in best shape, is that something you want to aim for?

I will be playing the qualifier for the Australian Open this time and I hope to see a lot of Indians in future.

Q) I remember in Pune you rued the fact that there weren’t more ATP 250 events in India. Now there aren’t any at all. How difficult does that make it for the players?

I don’t think the issue is one event, it’s that we only have three now. That makes it tough for the Indian players. It’s always fun to play at home and be in your country. I am sure different associations are trying their best to help Indian tennis.

Q) Rohan Bopanna had kicked of a certain doubles dream project with the initiative to empower deserving Indian doubles tennis players. Do you think such a programme is of utmost need in singles category as well?

I think such program is needed in singles for sure. I know the costs of a program will be higher as the coaching fee and expenses are higher but at the same time rewards are bigger for everyone if it works out.

Q) Do you think Davis Cup is losing its importance among players amid a long season, with Grand Slam qualification being an aim as well for which they need to take care of rankings as well?

I think having the old Davis Cup format was much more fun for everyone. I do understand from both side, sometimes a week can change your life on tour. Every one has their personal preferences. Roger, Rafa and Djoko and many many more didn’t play Davis Cup for years and year but that doesn’t make them a bad player or a bad person. I am sure they have their reasons as well.

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