‘Had to take the risks,’ says Sumit Nagal as he goes down fighting in Argentina

The 23-year-old Indian lost 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 to World No 46 Albert Ramos-Vinolas in the quarterfinal of the ATP 250 event in Buenos Aires

By Deepti Patwardhan

Deep in the third set, with the match past the two-hour mark, Sumit Nagal was still running around converting his backhands into forehands.

Serving at 4-5 in the decider, he blitzed a forehand, but missed the line by millimeters to go down 15-30. On the next point, when the time came, he went for another forehand, inside-out, bigger, to hammer down the winner. A few millimeters away this time and he would have been staring at two match points.

His trust in the forehand had brought him this far: the farthest he had been in an ATP Tour event. The 23-year-old from Jhajjar had gone through three grinding rounds of qualifying, defeated World No 100 Joao Sousa in the first round and knocked out second seed Cristian Garin to reach his first ATP quarterfinal.

But against the wily Albert Ramos-Vinolas, who shares Nagal’s love for clay, the Indian needed more. Ranked 46 in the world, Ramos-Vinolas was neither threatened by the force of Nagal’s forehand nor disheartened by his stoic defence.

He kept chipping away at the Indian, 10 years his junior, to carve a 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 win in two hours and 26 minutes in the quarterfinals of the ATP 250 Argentina Open in Buenos Aires on Friday.

“Towards the end, I knew how much energy I had left, so I had to take the risks,” Nagal said during the post-match press conference.

“The goal (coming in to Buenos Aires) was to play as many matches as possible. I was lacking a bit of match practice. Here, I was playing on a surface that I enjoy playing. I am happy not just because I made the quarters or played a three-setter today, but I got to play high-quality matches.

It was another flying start from the Indian, who struck the ball confidently off both wings and moved expertly on red dust. He drew an error from the Ramos-Vinolas forehand to break at the first opportunity and go 3-2 up in the opening set.

He held on to the break to win the set but could not keep up the accuracy or the intensity in the second. Ramos-Vinolas, playing his 50th quarterfinal, also steadied the ship and started choosing his moments. He broke the Indian’s serve in the sixth game and then in the eighth at love to pocket the second set.

At 5-3 in the decider, Nagal launched an unlikely comeback. Running on fumes towards the end, he was a little more trigger happy and the risks almost paid off as he wrestled back the break in the ninth game. The Indian had another break point on the Spaniard’s serve at 5-5, but his opponent shut it out with an ace down the T.

Serving at 5-6, to stay in the match, Nagal looked spent. The match ended with three tired errors from the Indian.

Though the match didn’t quite go his way, it was just the kick-start to the season the 23-year-old was looking for. His 2020 had ended with a shoulder injury and 2021 had begun with a first-round loss at the Australian Open. After a five-day trip from Melbourne to Argentina, he lost in the first round of qualifiers at the Cordoba Open.

“I definitely feel way better than I did seven days ago,” Nagal said.

“First of all, I played a lot of matches. The conditions are very slow so you don’t get any free points. Also, I don’t remember the last time I played six matches in six days, so definitely something I need to get used to. But the season has just started, and there’s a long way to go ahead.”

The run at the Argentina Open may have hampered his cause of getting to Santiago, Chile, in time for the next ATP event. But it is a foundation he will look to build on in the coming months.