Indian tennis player Sumit Nagal jumped to his career-best ATP ranking of 135 on Monday (September 30) after winning a title at the ATP Challenger tournament on Sunday (September 29) in Buenos Aires. But the youngster still feels flabbergasted that people are just “walking away” when he needs support.
The 22-year-old with his fearless approach took a set off the iconic Swiss star Roger Federer at the US Open in his Grand Slam debut last month and secured appreciation from the legend himself.
However, the rank or the appreciation feels incomplete to the player even after making two finals on the Challenger circuit.
Monday’s 26-place jump for the youngster has consolidated his status as India’s number two singles player behind Prajnesh Gunneswaran (84).
However, the paucity of funds meant that neither he had his coach by his side nor the physio, who could help him recover from the gruelling matches on red dirt in the Argentinian city.
“I was all alone here. No one was with me to help out. One way, it has been great that I have been playing good tennis but it’s not easy to do it and I’m really sad,” Nagal told PTI from Buenos Aires.
“The path is lonely despite doing well at the US Open. I qualified at 22 and led a set against Roger Federer but it still has not made impact anywhere. It’s really sad nobody is coming up to invest into tennis,” he added.
Nagal received financial support from some time under government’s Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) that offers monthly financial aid of ₹50,000 to athletes who are medal prospects at the Olympics, only to get dropped later.
As of now, only doubles specialists Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan are getting support through TOPS and none of the country’s singles tennis players are a beneficiary.
Multiple Grand Slam title winner Mahesh Bhupathi, who mentored Nagal after hand-picking him from a tennis clinic, said if a player of the caliber of Nagal can’t get enough support, then it’s the failure of the system.
“Sumit is obviously a special talent and it shows with what he has done in the last six months. When you see talent like him who are not nurtured and supported keeping in mind the coming Olympics or the next one, I consider it a colossal failure of the system,” Bhupathi fumed.
“Then no one has the right to ask later why India doesn’t produce champions,” Bhupathi, who won eight Grand Slam trophies, added.
Though Nagal gets support from Virat Kohli Foundation it does not cover all expenses that a tennis player needs.
“They are providing a good amount but as you can see in tennis you need a team like all the top 100 players to have a coach, fitness, physio etc which adds up,” said Bhupathi.
The estimated required annual budget for Nagal is around €220,000 (₹1.5 crores).
The Haryana-born player that he is surprised to witness that despite zooming up close to top-100, he is not getting enough support.
“I still have the exact budget which I had in 2018 when I was ranked 350. It’s that when I needed the most which is right now, I see people turning around and walking away,” Nagal said.
Mahesh Bhupathi, trying to support the upcoming players, has been trying hard to get sponsors on board however is finding it difficult due to lack of corporate support. He is now knocking the doors of those who know something about creating champions.
“Well, only an athlete can understand talent in my opinion. So now I am trying to route it through Gopi (Gopichand) and Malav and hopefully they can advise the best way forward,” he said.
Nagal said people only make promises but when the time comes, they look the other side.
“I am still stuck. I have to find a way to get my coach on tour to help me. Most of the tournaments I did in summer was by myself. It’s funny how they say if you need any help let us know and when you actually ask them or write an email they don’t even bother replying to you,” he said.
(With inputs from agencies)