With just 900 euros in his bank account, India's number one tennis player pleads for help

Sumit Nagal says India's singles players need financial support to stay afloat


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India's Sumit Nagal hits a return to USA's Nicolas Moreno De Alboran at the Chennai Open. — PTI
India's Sumit Nagal hits a return to USA's Nicolas Moreno De Alboran at the Chennai Open. — PTI

Published: Wed 20 Sep 2023, 4:17 PM

After arranging for a sustenance budget of Rs 10 million that keeps him going on the ATP Tour, India's number one tennis player Sumit Nagal is left with less than Rs 100,000 in his bank account and a morose feeling of not leading a good life.

Nagal has been training at the Nansel Tennis Academy in Germany for a few years but lack of funds meant that he could not train at his favourite place in the first three months of the 2023 season.

His friends, Somdev Devvarman, former India tennis player, and Christopher Marquis, helped him stay in shape in January and February before he finally managed to fund his stay in Germany.

Fund crunch is the story of probably every Indian tennis player but the fact that the country's number one singles player is not saving enough money for himself and his family just exposes the unhelpful system and the brutal Tour where the players wage lonely battles.

To stay and play on the extravagant ATP Tour, Nagal, the world number 159, has invested all his prize money, his salary from IOCL and the support he gets from Maha Tennis Foundation.

The expenditure is related to his stay at the training centre in Peine and his travel for tournaments along with either his coach or a physio.

"If I look at my bank balance, I have what I had at the beginning of the year. It is 900 euros (approx Rs 80,000). I did get a bit of help. Mr Prashant Sutar is helping me with MAHA Tennis Foundation and I also get monthly (salary) from IOCL but I don't have any big sponsor," Nagal said.

Nagal's racquet, shoes and apparel needs are being taken care of by Yonex and ASICS respectively.

This year Nagal has earned around Rs 6.5 million with his biggest pay cheque coming from the US Open where he lost the first round of the Qualifiers and still pocketed $22,000 (approx Rs 1.8 million).

"I am investing whatever I am making. The yearly cost where I travel with one coach is costing me around Rs 8 million to Rs 10 million and that is just with one travelling coach (no physio). Whatever I have made I have already invested," he said.

"I feel like I am lacking support despite being India's number one player for past few years.

"I am the only player to qualify for Grand Slams, only player to win a (tennis) match at the Olympics (Tokyo) in last few years, and still the government has not added my name to the TOPS," added Nagal who achieved his career high ranking of 122 in August, 2020.

"I felt when my ranking dropped after injury, no one wanted to help me, no one really believed that I could be back. That was disappointing because I feel whatever I do is not enough. It's so hard to find financial support in India. To be honest I do not know what to do, I have given up."

The son of a primary school teacher in Punjabi Bagh, Nagal fought off-court battles last year when he underwent a hip surgery and also contracted Covid a couple of times.

It is not surprising that he began to doubt if he will ever get back to tennis courts. Sitting and waiting is never easy for an athlete.

"Rehab took six months, then coming back to play took another six months. I would say I took a year-and-a-half, just to feel okay," he said.

"I don't have anything in savings. I am just breaking even. I can not say I live a very good life or where I say I don't need to work. I did not earn anything in the last two years so I am happy that I am breaking even."

Nagal rues that Indian singles players not just lack the financial support but also the guidance.

"We lack funding, we lack the system. If there is a system, there will be funding. China has money. We have potential like China. Why do we win just 5-6 medals in Olympics but China won 38 gold (in Tokyo)? "We are 1.4 billion, we can match them in talent but the guidance is missing. In tennis, we are far away from competing at top," he said.


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