India’s Sumit Nagal put up a good show on his Grand Slam debut up against third seed Roger Federer in the first round of the US Open at the Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York.
The 22-year-old from Jhajjar, Haryana won the first set 6-4 against a rusty-lookng Federer and had several look-ins in the fourth set as well, but in the end, he 38-year-old was a class apart winning won 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.
Excerpts from Nagal’s post-match interview:
Your thoughts on the match and the experience?
When I walked on the court, it was the first time I was walking in front of such a big crowd, [it] felt amazing. The crowd was good, playing one of the best tennis players, I enjoyed every moment out there. Tennis-wise I was a bit up and down as it was my first time. But overall, the experience was great.
You said you were up and down. What could you have done a little better?
I think I lacked energy at times. In the second and third sets, my energy levels went really down. I started thinking too much. Then the first serve percentage went down was down.
Playing against a player like Federer, you win the first set. Do you start thinking it’s gettable?
Yeah, the thoughts come, you know. That’s the thing, when I won the first set, instead of focusing on what I did well in the first set, I started thinking too much about other things. But it’s an experience and all of us learn from our mistakes.
You start thinking “Oh! I am a set up”. Then you get nervous and the energy levels are not the same. Boom, and things change in a second.
Physically you went through a grind to get through the qualifiers. Did that have any impact?
No, not at all. I don’t think the match was too physical. The games were short on his serve, and he was serving really well in the second and third sets. So I don’t think there was any issue physically as such.
Federer’s a home team all over the world. We’ve seen a lot of 20-22-year-olds come out and play him on big courts, and the crowd is always behind him. From that aspect, how was the experience?
That’s normal. He’s earned it. He’s won 20 Grand Slams, so why won’t they cheer for him? I don’t have any complaints against the crowd, I think they were really fair. For what he has done for the sport, it is only natural that they support him. So I think it should be the way it is.
You mentioned about doing your job in Challengers and getting out of there. Could you, sort of, have the same mentality playing, say, Federer at Arthur Ashe?
Well, I tried to (laughs). But it’s not easy when you are up against a player who sees the game better than anyone else. He changes his strategy in three points. That’s what makes him different. He always keeps you guessing. He’s so good at that. You have no idea where the ball is going to come.
Both your Grand Slam debuts (junior and senior) happened in New York. Given it’s not even your favorite surface, what clicks about this place for you?
It’s perfect. It is one of my favorite Slams, it’s a wonderful city. I qualified for the Junior US Open here when I was 14, so brings back a lot of memories.
Who was your idol growing up?
Not many to be honest. I never watched a lot of tennis growing up. I was not from a tennis background, was more into cricket. But once I started playing, I tried to pick up good things out of everyone’s game. So I love watching everyone play and try to pick up good qualities from them.
Did you think about the billion people back home who were cheering for you any time before, during or after the match?
I have a big country behind me. I always take energy from it. I think in a way that whatever I do, I do for these billion people. This always motivates me, no matter what tournament or court I am playing on.
What are the aspects in your game you think you need to work on?
Everything. I am lacking in all departments and need to get better everywhere.
What is the story going to be when you tell kids in India – ‘Hey I played Federer and took the first set off him?’
It would have been a much better story if I had won one or two more sets (laughs). But yeah, I am going to try to share as much experience I can with the young kids. Maybe I will have a better story to tell them in a few years.
Where do you go from here Sumit?
I go to Italy for a Challenger (Genoa ATP Challenger 125) on clay. Well, it’s going to be just Challengers, challengers until I break the Top 100. So yeah, that’s how it is.
Any time frame you’ve set for cracking the Top 100?
I want to do it this year. That’s why I have clay court challengers lined up for the rest of the year. That’s what I am chasing.
Your serve still seems to be a weakness in your game, which comes from the height. Do you think it’ll be a handicap for you at this level?
Well, I think the game has become really physical and everyone’s returning great now. If you look at the top 100, there are so many people who are below 6 feet, I am under 6 feet too. But the advantage we have is we are faster than the others. So that’s how you use it to your benefit.
What did Federer tell you at the net during the end?
He just wished me a great season ahead.