A year on from facing Roger Federer on the Arthur Ashe Stadium, Sumit Nagal has another herculean task at hand in Dominic Thiem.
A year ago, Sumit Nagal took a set off Roger Federer in his maiden Grand Slam appearance at the US Open. At the same venue, he would hope to give another big title contender a scare (or more) in Dominic Thiem. Nagal will once again have the opportunity to step on to the Arthur Ashe Stadium and hope to create an upset.
Against Federer, Nagal took the opening set and if Thiem’s form at the Western & Southern Open and the first round of the US Open is to go by, Nagal can create trouble. And Thiem is not taking things lightly.
“I actually saw his full match last year against Roger. He was playing well. I remember he had an amazing forehand, like a really, really good one. So maybe I’ll see some of those highlights and some from the latest match,” said Thiem after his opening-round win against Jaume Munar.
On Nagal’s part, he turned things around in his opening round in New York, just a few weeks after a disappointing show with the serve against Stan Wawrinka at the ATP Challenger in Prague. With his 6-1, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 win over Bradley Klahn, Nagal ended India’s barren run at the Slams. He became the first Indian singles player to win a match at a major in seven years.
The last was Somdev Devvarman, who beat Lukas Lacko, at the 2013 US Open. “The simplest answer is that we’re not good enough yet. It is not an answer that anyone wants to hear, least of all the players, but some of it is luck. It is also that we haven’t taken our opportunities,” said Devvarman back in January.
Nagal, this time, did take his opportunity. The luck played a part too: with the draw, absence of fans and the external factors going into a Grand Slam in a pandemic world. The Indian played exhibition events in Germany and Switzerland before the Prague Challenger. Klahn, meanwhile, didn’t get as much playing time. Also going against the American was the absence of local fans. As for the draw, Klahn is the third lowest ranked player an Indian has faced in the past seven years.
But Nagal had to make his luck count too. Watched on by his team and Rohan Bopanna, he played a smart match. The boy from Jhajjar made 17 unforced errors, landed 80 percent of his first serves in and won 77 percent of those points. A sharp contrast to how his serve faltered in Prague – the second serve points won dipping into single digits.
All those external factors will subside when he takes court against Thiem. The Austrian played 28 exhibition matches while everyone bunkered down during the pandemic. His return to the tour didn’t go swimmingly. He lost easily against Filip Krajinovic at the Cincinnati-New York event last week and looked rusty against Munar.
The Spaniard had Thiem on the ropes and matched him every step of the way before a slip in the second set led to a lengthy medical timeout. There was no way back for Munar after the blow to the knee which drew blood. Surprisingly, he suddenly retired after the second set to send Thiem forward.
In the truncated contest, Thiem committed 25 unforced errors and was a poor 3/10 on break point opportunities.
“I am ready and excited to play him. It’s going to be fun and (I will) see where I stand in terms of my tennis level,” Nagal told PTI after the opening round win.
Change in court technology means the ball is travelling faster and allowing lesser time for players to make an impact on the groundstrokes. Thiem is proficient on both forehand and backhand but if Nagal can get as many balls back as he did against Klahn, he has a chance of causing a stir once again.
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