Tennis has always been a rich man’s game — the lack of access to courts due to poor sports infrastructure and need for high quality equipment make it that much difficult for enthusiasts from the middle class to pursue the sport. But it was not enough to stop young Haryana boy Sumit Nagal from overcoming the odds to secure the Junior Wimbledon Doubles title and becoming the second Indian to win the championship after Leander Paes.
Hailing from a middle class family, Sumit’s journey with tennis began at the age of seven, when his father took him to the dda Sports Complex in Delhi. His father, Suresh Nagal, was a keen follower of the game who idolised Pete Sampras. Having seen his son triumph at the fabled Wimbledon, the proud father now wants to see his son move on to the singles game and churn out a career like the legendary American.
Born in Haryana’s Jhajjar district, Sumit shifted to Delhi when he was 4 years old. His father is a primary school teacher and mother is a homemaker. With the makings of a typical Indian middle class family, they supported their son’s passion for the game despite the odds and Sumit is now fulfilling their dreams. When Tehelka met his parents, they could not contain their pride of their son’s achievement.
However, the journey to the top has not been easy for Sumit. He had to travel two hours for practice in every evening, accompanied by his mother.
“Sumit doesn’t say no to training, everyday he will be ready for the practice on time,” says Suresh. “He practiced for five to six hours from a very young age. He is very hardworking and enthusiastic when it comes to tennis.”
Sumit’s life changed in 2007, when Apollo Tyres tied up with ace Indian tennis player Mahesh Bhupathi to train budding tennis talents under the age of 10. Sumit made to the Under-10 players who were selected to train in Bhupathi’s academy in Bengaluru. As fate would have it, the funding from Apollo Tyres stopped after just two years. By that time, the coach and physical trainer in the academy saw something special in Sumit and brought him to the attention of Bhupathi. After that, Bhupathi himself took on the responsibility to train the young starlet.
He was sent to Canada for training in 2010 and then to Spain. Since 2014, he has been training at the Schuttler Waske Tennis-University in Offenbach, Germany under Argentine coach Marino Delfino.
“Dekhte he Papa kya hota hain (Let’s see what happens, dad),” Sumit’s father recalled his son telling him before the Wimbledon Junior Finals. “His confidence was increasing after every match,” says Suresh.
“Sumit does not lose his cool and he did not feel tensed before the match.”
When asked about his son’s winning moment, he said that some media persons were in his house and they did not allow him to watch the finals but gave him live updates. But when asked about their feelings he said that it was like Diwali for them and he made them and the country proud.
Sumit won the doubles titles, but his main focus is on singles. He lost his singles match in the first round. Much of the blame for that defeat, though, could be put on fatigue. He got his visa two days before the match. When he reached the airport to catch the flight to London, the staff of the national carrier denied him a boarding pass, citing that he was a minor. He told them that he was representing India, but they did not allow him to travel. He had to fly to Germany in another flight to join his coach and then went to London. He reached London on the morning of 4 July and played the singles match in the evening with a tired body and frustrated mind. Still, he managed to win one set.
When asked about any help from the state or Central government, his father said that nobody is helping them. Mahesh Bhupathi is helping him partly and the rest, they are managing on their own. Up to this day, nobody has contacted them and offered any support.
“If it was cricket, then the players would be getting lot of money,” said Suresh. Playing tennis is very much expensive but the passion for the game does not let them to think about the money. “We are expecting somebody to sponsor our child, the government and association are not going to do anything,” adds Suresh.
“Parivar aur desh ka naam uncha kiya (He made his family and his country proud),” says Krisha Nagal, Sumit’s mother when asked about her son’s victory. His father is expecting him to do the same thing in the senior level too. However, money is a constraint, but Suresh is confident of overcoming this. The proud father is confident that one day his son will be a shining star like his favourite Pistol Pete.