Indian tennis player Sumit Nagal has said he learns a lot by observing how world No 3 Dominic Thiem goes about his business and wants to play like the Austrian, whom he lost to in the second round at the US Open last year.

Indian tennis: Sumit Nagal begins season with first-round defeat at Murray River Open

On his Grand Slam main draw debut at the 2019 US Open, Nagal made headlines by taking a set off 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer. The next year he lost to eventual winner Thiem in round two at Flushing Meadows.

In a virtual media interaction organised by Sony Pictures Sports Network on Tuesday, Nagal, ranked 139 in the world, reflected on his time away from the tour over the past year due to the pandemic, his preparation heading into the upcoming Australian Open, and the challenges of living in a bio-bubble.

Nagal said that he has a feeling he’s going to end up facing a top-10 player in the first Major of the year in Melbourne. He has been awarded a wild card entry into the tournament and will know who his opponent is when the draw is announced on Thursday.

“I was talking about this with my coach last night and I have a feeling that I will play a top-10 player. It’s my gut feeling, let’s see what happens,” he said.

Asked if playing against the best players gets the best out of him, the 23-year-old said he learns from the big players.

“It is with lot of players that they perform better when they are up against really good players. For me, I get to learn by playing them so I don’t mind playing big players, someone in the top-10.

“To try and match what Federer does is very, very difficult. What I learn from him is how he understands himself and how he reads the game. He will never make the same mistake twice, he’s that good.

“I could learn a lot from Thiem. I would like to play the way he plays – solid backhand, serving well, good forehand. I try to copy him a lot. The way he practices, his intensity is pretty high. He makes sure that whatever he does, he does it right. He is very disciplined on court. He does not show bad behaviour in practice or matches.”

Heading into the Australian Open, Nagal has played just one match that he lost to Ricardas Bernakis in straight sets. He had also ended his 2020 season early. Does he feel undercooked before the Major?

“I ended the last season a month earlier and then when I tried coming back, I was not ready. There is nothing I can change, I can’t control my past. I am trying to practice as much as possible and get better every day, so I am ready for the Australian Open.”

Nagal said that being the only Indian in the men’s singles main draw is a privilege for him.

“I don’t feel pressure, I feel excited that maybe I can change things and people will start taking tennis more seriously.”

Having spent the last two weeks in quarantine in Melbourne ahead of the tournament, Nagal said staying in the bio-bubbles for longer periods won’t be easy for players and those with family and kids could start pulling out of tournaments.

“It depends from player to player. There are players who are older, they have a family with kids. It’s (quarantine) not easy, you can do it a time or two but to do it for 10 months or so is not easy.”

Nagal also said that he and former Indian player Somdev Devvarman, who was added to his coaching team last year, have only been able to communicate over text messages for the past few months due to the pandemic.

(With PTI inputs)