Last year, Sumit Nagal created history after he became the first Indian since Somdev Devvarman (2013 US Open) to reach the second round of a Grand Slam. Nagal accomplished the feat after beating America's Bradley Klahn 6-1, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 in the first round of the US Open.
Nagal, who also won the 2015 Wimbledon Boys' doubles title, recently lost in the qualifiers of the French Open. The 23-year-old is based in Germany where he is competing in the International Tennis Federation (ITF) challenger tournaments.
In an exclusive interview with Sputnik on Friday, Nagal spoke about Novak Djokovic's place in the greatest of all time (GOAT) list, his own quest to become a Top 100 player, Roger Federer's recent struggles with form, his admiration of Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli, and whether Sania Mirza and the Indian tennis team can win a medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
Sputnik: You are at present ranked 148 in the world - do you have a date by which you'd like to have cracked the Top 100?
Sumit Nagal: Even though I want to crack the Top 100, I don't have a time-frame in which to achieve it. I just want to be healthy and play some good tennis and enjoy the sport as much as I can. If I continue to enjoy the game, I think the ranking will improve by itself.
Sputnik: What was it like to play against the legendary Roger Federer in front of a packed Arthur Ashe Stadium?
Sumit Nagal: The Roger Federer experience was great. I grew up watching him play at the Grand Slams, especially the US Open. I still have this image of him playing at the US Open wearing an all black outfit during an evening session. I feel very lucky and proud to have shared the court with him.
Sputnik: You took a set off Federer in that first round clash at the US Open in 2019. Did you ever think that you could beat him?
Sumit Nagal: Yeah, the thought of beating Federer came to my mind briefly - but I was going point-by-point. I always knew that the match is the best of five sets and winning a set doesn't matter much. In a best of five-sets contest, things can change pretty quickly. Once I failed to convert the first two games in the second set, the momentum changed so much, with Roger winning an hour later in four sets.
Sputnik: Federer has struggled after he made his comeback earlier this year. Can he win another Grand Slam?
Sumit Nagal: Stranger things have happened in tennis. In this sport you never know. Who thought Djokovic would beat Rafael Nadal at the French Open, but that happened. So, can Roger win a Slam? For sure he can. If he believes he can win a Slam, that's all that matters.
Sputnik: It seems the wear and tear on Federer's knees has finally caught up with him. Is it time for the Swiss maestro to retire?
Sumit Nagal: It is up to Federer when he wants to retire. But all I have to say is that he's still No 8 in the world, so I don't see a reason for him to retire. What's more, we have all seen what he did after his last injury comeback in 2017 and I believe he can still do extraordinary things on a tennis court.
Sputnik: With his 19th Grand Slam at the French Open, where does Novak Djokovic rank in the greatest-of-all-time debate?
Sumit Nagal: I already believe Djokovic is the greatest of all time. Just look at his achievements in the past eight years - he has dominated tennis almost every single year. Not only has he been dominant at the Grand Slams, but the kind of dominance he has achieved in Masters events is simply outstanding. For me, he is the best player in the history of tennis.
Sputnik: What one thing would you like to take from each of the Big Three - Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic?
Sumit Nagal: I would love to take Nadal's forehand, Djokovic's backhand and Federer's serve. I would also take Novak's intelligence because he's the strongest out of all the tennis players right now.
Sputnik: Ace tennis player Sania Mirza recently said that she would love to win a medal at the Olympics. Do you think she can fulfill her dream in Tokyo?
Sumit Nagal: I hope she does win a medal in Tokyo. That will be amazing for her and the country. My best wishes to her.
Sputnik: Outside tennis, name the sports star you admire most and why?
Sumit Nagal: I would say Virat Kohli. He has done a lot of good things for the country, for the cricket team. He's a very hard-working, extremely motivated person who wants to get better every day and I just love that thing about him.