On Teacher’s Day, guru Bhupathi backs student Sumit Nagal to only get better

Mahesh Bhupathi, a 12-time tennis Grand Slam winner, has played a major role in India No. 1 Sumit Nagal’s rise to prominence.

By Utathya Nag

Indian tennis star Mahesh Bhupathi, who has mentored Sumit Nagal since he was just 11, is happy with his star pupil’s performances but feels that he will do even better in the days to come.

Nagal, currently India’s top-ranked men’s singles player, has grabbed the attention of the world on the back of some fine performances. The US Open has been the ground zero of Nagal’s rising fame.

Last year, Nagal created waves on his debut Slam after taking a set off Swiss legend Roger Federer. The 2020 edition saw a more matured player take the centre stage in New York to become the first Indian men’s singles player to reach the second round since Somdev Devvarman in 2013.

Even in his second-round loss to world No. 3 Dominic Thiem, Nagal impressed with a gritty display. Bhupathi, a 12-time Grand Slam winner, however, feels Nagal is just getting started.

“From last year, Sumit has become better, faster, fitter, stronger and smarter. Playing against one of the favourites, he was able to hold his own for a specific period of time,” Bhupathi told Sportstar. It was a wonderful tribute to a rising player on Teacher’s Day.

“He is just about maturing as a player. Playing big matches on the big courts is very different from playing the Challengers. He will definitely continue to get better,” guru Bhupathi added.

Indian tennis ace Mahesh Bhupathi has been a mentor to Sumit Nagal from a very young age.

Bhupathi-Nagal – a unique teacher-student relationship

Bhupathi shares an interesting connection with Nagal and perhaps few people know the youngster’s game better.

The two first met in 2008 at the Delhi Lawn Tennis Association (DLTA) courts during a trial for Bhupathi’s Apollo Mission 2018 project focused at identifying and training future stars of Indian tennis.

Despite other selectors ignoring him, a young Nagal approached Bhupathi personally to plead him to watch him play. Bhupathi obliged and was instantly impressed with Nagal’s talent and never-say-die attitude.

Even after the programme closed down in 2010, Bhupathi continued to mentor Nagal and saw him flourish.

Currently world No. 124, Sumit Nagal is eyeing to break into the top 100 and is expected to fly to Paris with the hopes of making it to the French Open main draw. The tournament at Roland Garros starts on September 21.

“I am not worried about the exact rankings; for sure I could be thinking top 40 or top 60, but it depends on how I do it. Definitely, I am close, and I will do my best to break into the top 100 as soon as possible,” Nagal stated after his match with Thiem.