Tata Open Pune ATP 250: Nagal, Manas Dhamne have their moments but bow on opening day

With Filip Krajinovic stuck an unrecoverable distance down the backline, Sumit Nagal knew a drop shot would give him a foothold in the decider. The execution wasn’t particularly sharp, but there was nothing wrong with the shot selection.

The Indian would set his lines at the crucial moment – dumping his shot into the net with an open lane staring back at him – as he went 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 to the Serb.

Usually, Nagal’s racket strings vibrated in such situations – the frame trembled at the likelihood of his anger being transmitted as an ungrounded shock wave. But on Monday on the Balewadi courts, during the opener of the Tata Open Pune ATP 250, Nagal managed to keep his composure.

The Jhajjar man had played some gritty forehands, served fairly solidly (first serve was up to 73 pc), slided acrobatically and disallowed Krajinovic to max out his seven break points. “I had more chances in the third, but he played the bigger points better,” he would diagnose himself.

Yes, yet another wildcard had bitten the dust. But Nagal fought to the end, playing the type of proactive tennis that inspires hope for a good season, let alone the quick end on opening day. He would later say his racket-breaking days were behind him. The composure helped his game.

“It (the anger) was one of my weaknesses because I would play up and down. You can fix backhands and forehands. But not what goes through the mind. I’m seeking help from an American sports psychologist,’ he would say.

India’s singles brigade is stuck in a limbo, where a wild card becomes a double-edged sword. It’s an opportunity, okay. But it’s also where they are routinely reminded and impatiently guilty about how they squandered that chance by not winning in the main draws.

Nagal would explain the dilemma. “We are lucky to have one ATP tournament. But it’s sad that we don’t have 20-25 tournaments (like in America). We know what a difference it makes when your fans cheer you on, eat your own food, have family and friends there when you play at home,” he added.

On his first match point, Krajinovic was greeted by chants of ‘Sumit, Sumit, Sumit’ from a home crowd rooting for their own player. “People make a difference,” he added.

Nagal tried to sustain his serve last year and went out with a silver lining of faith despite the loss. “Tennis is all about confidence. If I can play like that for the rest of the year, I’ll be happy,” he said.

Manas starts well; impresses Mmoh

Manas Dhamne, the other local wildcard playing on Center Court, got off to a deliberate start as he came armed with a plan not to get overwhelmed. It worked for the 15-year-old against Michael Mmoh, who later said that a “food poisoning-like feeling” made him start the game a little sick. But there was nothing to detract from Dhamne’s composed start.

The wildcard was ambitious, because that’s how it was meant to be. He started with a 15-shot exchange and finished the rally with a beautiful down-the-line forehand screamer. “I wanted to play solid on the first point, the first game and not miss,” he would say of his deliberate effort not to screw up. It shocked Mmoh a bit, although the actual points and service breaks were not met until the second as Dhamne lost 6-2, 6-4.

Mmoh would break him at 2-2, then again to take the first set. But Dhamne struck confidently, had the legs to chase the ball up the flanks and could hit deep. He didn’t seem to have much time to let his nerves run wild – they were almost nonexistent. “Next time I will try to improve key moments,” the Indian teenager added.

“He played his best tennis at the start of the game. I didn’t know what would happen. He’s quite talented for a 15-year-old,” said Mmoh. Dhamne, who came to the limelight with an Asian junior title, is training in Italy near the center of Riccardo Piatti.

Mmoh acknowledged that his physical condition made the match “interesting”. Named after Jordan, whose fan was his father, Mmoh still finds his way after graduating from juniors.

His mother donated $500 for a half-hour training spot at Nick Bollettieri Academy before he was awarded a scholarship. The seniors, however, have been a steep climb. On Monday, Dhamne would see from the other side of the court just how tough things can get even for a tennis prodigy as Mmoh quelled the nausea to take a fighting first round victory.

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