Enough to spark national debate on tennis

New Delhi: Sumit Nagal has played just the kind of match, which was required to spark a debate on Indian tennis, its progress or rather lack of it. Taking a set against the Greatest of All Time (GOAT) at a Grand Slam is bound to attract attention. No wonder, people from all walks of life including sporting greats have suddenly started talking about Nagal and Indian tennis.

Shooter Abhinav Bindra, India's only individual Olympic champion till date and former India No 1 Somdev Devvarman -- one of the best tennis players India has produced -- were involved in a friendly discussion on twitter.

Bindra tried putting things in perspective saying that while Nagal has shown potential that India could produce a Grand Slam champion in future, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.

Former Asian Games and CWG gold medallist Somdev however wondered aloud whether administrative apathy will allow the system to produce champions.

First, let's see how the 22-year-old Jhajjar-born reached the Show Court at the Flushing Meadows, finding himself against a 20-time Slam Champion after beginning the year outside 350.

Nagal recovered from his shoulder injury and moved his base to Paine in Germany where he was trained by Sasha Nensel and Milos Galecic (fitness trainer).

From April to June, he played eight tournaments on Challenger Circuit and made five semi-finals and a quarterfinal. Those six good tournaments gave him 170 points, which catapulted him to top-200 for the first time in his career. That's been the secret of his progress. He could play Challenger level tournaments consistently in and around Europe.

Now how many Challenger tournaments India has hosted since the beginning of 2019 season? The answer is one. How many tournaments India will host in remainder of the season? Again 'one' in Pune since the Bengaluru Open will not feature this year.

This is one of major reasons why Indian players struggle to move up the ranking ladder. There are not enough opportunities to collect points. They have to travel abroad which means a big hole in pocket and not all have such big pockets.

Yuki Bhambri , Saketh Myneni, Ramkumar Ramanathan and Prajnesh and Sumit Nagal benefitted immensely when country had 3-4 Challengers spread in the season. Now we have just two - hosted by TNTA in Chennai and MSLTA in Pune.

Prajnesh, India's top singles player is not even considered for TOPS scheme where a sportsperson to get even Rs 50,000 a month, which does not cover even basic requirement for his tennis training.

Yuki is largely self-trained while Ramkumar trained in Barcelona with the support of TNTA. Prajnesh's father had the financial resources to put him in an academy in Barcelona and Nagal found his backer in Mahesh Bhupathi.

There is no surprise that India has just one top-100 player in Prajnesh (ranked 88). A total of 38 percent of top-100 players come from five European nations - France (11), Spain (10), Italy (7) Germany (5) and Serbia (5).

And these are the nations who have produced the maximum number of champions on Challenger circuit, which serves as a springboard to take the giant leap.

The win-loss record in finals in the 2019 season shows that these five nations -- Spain (11-4), Italy (10-15), France (6-6), Germany (5-9), Serbia (3-4) - were the best. Their players are dominating the circuit.

This is largely because they have infrastructure in place and funds to host tournaments. The European players need not travel thousands of miles away from home. This year, France (11) and Italy (10) alone have hosted more than 20 tournaments and have 10 more to go in the next three months.

Germany (7) and Spain (6) are the next best in terms of hosting competitions. And these are tournaments just on Challenger circuit, the ATP 250, ATP 500 and the Masters (1000) are there to be added to swell the tally.

Indian players do not have that luxury. Travelling to these far away tournaments is a big challenge, forget about travelling with a coach or a physio, who could help you out recover from gruelling matches.

Former AITA President Anil Khanna, who is also ITF Vice President, clearly understands the problems and even had tried to launch a closed Tour for just Asian players but it did not work but it did not offer ranking points.

If India aspires to be known as tennis nation and wants to see more players competing at Grand Slams, it need to back its players.

By Amanpreet Singh

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