NEW YORK: Making a Grand Slam main draw debut against Roger Federer at a packed Arthur Ashe Stadium would have been overwhelming for many players but unheralded Indian Sumit Nagal handled the occasion like a seasoned veteran, earning a string of new admirers at the US Open.
The 22-year-old showed little sign of nerves in Monday’s first round match, coming out swinging to win the opening set against the five-time champion before exiting 4-6 6-1 6-2 6-4.
Federer, who has 20 Grand Slam singles titles to his name, saw his serve broken three times by the world No. 190 and was impressed by his composure.
“I guess maybe how he handled the moment. Never easy to come out and play your best,” Federer, 38, said of his opponent, who has never earned a tour-level victory and only qualified for the US Open last week.
Even when Federer was on the brink of victory Nagal refused to roll over, earning four of his 13 break point opportunities in the final game as the Swiss served for the match in the fourth set.
Nagal said playing against Federer was a unique experience.
“He loves putting pressure on the other guy,” he said. “He’s always making you think of what he’s going to do, and that’s how I felt. Players I have played, I never had this feeling.”
Like most kids growing up in India, Nagal wanted to be a cricketer but it was his father who insisted he swap bat and ball for a racket, setting him on his tennis path.
In 2005 Nagal caught the eye of Mahesh Bhupathi, who won India its first Grand Slam title in 1997 when he won the French Open mixed doubles, at a trial for his academy and got selected from the thousands of youngsters present.
Nagal was ranked 361 at the start of the year after being sidelined by a shoulder problem but 2019 has already seen him make remarkable progress.
“He showed incredible composure against the greatest player in the world and held his own,” Bhupathi said.