The opening day of the 139th US Open is set to be something of a red-letter day for Indian tennis. For the first time this century two male Indian players will play singles matches at a Grand Slam. Prajnesh Gunneswaran, in the midst of an excellent season, faces a tough test on Louis Armstrong taking on the in-form Russian Daniil Medvedev, but it is Sumit Nagal, who has a date with destiny on Arthur Ashe court against Roger Federer, that will command the majority of the attention in his homeland.
Federer “is God of Tennis”
The man from Jhajjar could scarcely have been more delighted with his draw. Where most qualifiers would be hoping for a more winnable encounter to potentially bolster their haul of prize money and ranking points, Nagal was overjoyed to see his name come out next to the Swiss;
“It will be a great opportunity to play Roger at Arthur Ashe stadium. It’s probably the best thing that could have happened. I was hoping I get to play Roger someday. He is God of tennis, so yeah I am looking forward to it,” Nagal told the Press Trust of India.
Surely the hope of all patrons who have tickets for Ashe is that Nagal isn’t content to just come and pay homage at the altar of the legendary Swiss. The Indian, though obviously in awe of Federer, will need to find a way to attack him, as even the great Swiss is fallible, especially in the early rounds of the US Open. The question is, does Nagal have the game to do it?
From the Challenger Tour to the greatest challenge of his career
Nagal will come into the match on Monday match-sharp. He has come through qualifying impressively. Before each of his three matches, he was seen as the underdog, but he exceeded expectations to knock out the seeded Japanese Tatsuma Ito, Canada’s Peter Polansky before coming from a set down against the Brazilian Joao Menezes in the final round of qualifying.
This continues a good run of form for the 22-year-old Nagal. He is currently sitting at his highest ever ATP ranking of world #190. This has mainly been achieved from results earned on the Challenge Tour. Some very good players have fallen to the Indian this year including Martin Klizan, six times a tour-level champion, who was defeated in Bratislava in June and former Monte Carlo Masters finalist Albert Ramos-Vinolas. who lost in Lyon only months prior to the Spaniard winning the title in Gstaad.
Nagal’s Mission 2019
Nagal was a member of the ill-fated, though impressively ambitious, initiative led by Mahesh Bhupathi called the Mission 2018 initiative. This was introduced in the late 2000s to try and produce an Indian Grand Slam champion by the year 2018. It won’t be news that, ultimately, they were unsuccessful in this aim, but on Monday, Indian tennis will be in the spotlight, even if only briefly. Can Nagal defeat Federer? Probably not, but on a tennis court, you never know what might happen.
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