ROME: India’s tennis ace Sumit Nagal became the country’s first player to win an ATP Challenger event on a European clay court, pulling off an upset win over higher-ranked Dutchman Jesper de Jong here on Sunday.
The 25-year-old Nagal defeated de Jong, more than 100 places above the Indian in the ATP singles rankings, 6-3, 6-2 to clinch his third ATP Challenger title and the first since the triumph in Buenos Aires in 2019.
Nagal ranked 347th in the world, had little difficulty overcoming his Dutch opponent three years younger and is currently ranked 234th in the world.
A regular member of the Indian Davis Cup squad, Nagal had to play six tough matches, including two rounds of qualifiers, en route to the final.
He defeated Italy’s Jacepo Berretini in the first round of qualifiers before overcoming a tough challenge from Norway’s higher-ranked opponent Victor Durasovic (ATP Rank 302) in a gruelling three-setter to secure a place in the main round.
The 2015 Wimbledon boys’ doubles title winner then thrashed home favourite Francesco Maestrelli (ATP rank 172) in the first round before blanking wildcard Fausto Tabacco of Italy 6-3, 6-0 to secure a berth in the quarter-finals.
Nagal, who had defeated Uzbekistan’s Denic Istomin in the first round of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics before going down to Russian ace Daniil Medvedev in the second round, defeated another higher-ranked opponent in Netherlands’ Max Houkes to secure a place in the semi-final in the Rome event.
Pitted against a tough Belgian opponent in Joris De Loore, seeded eighth, the Indian lost the opening set against the 198th-ranked player 2-6, before winning the next two 7-5, 6-4 to make it to the title round.
Legendary Indian player Ramesh Krishnan had won the APT Stuttgart Open on clay in 1982, but that was an ATP Tour event, a higher-level tournament.