India’s Nagal makes history with win vs. 31-seed

Sports

MELBOURNE, Australia — Sumit Nagal became the first Indian tennis player to knock off a seeded opponent at a Grand Slam since 1989 when he defeated Alexander Bublik in straight sets at the Australian Open on Tuesday.

Nagal, a qualifier who was ranked No. 1 in India and No. 137 in the world entering the tournament, outlasted the No. 31 seed Bublik 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 (5) to a raucous reception from fans on Court 6.

Ramesh Krishnan was the last Indian player to beat a seeded opponent at a Slam, defeating top-seeded Mats Wilander in the second round of the 1989 Australian Open.

“I didn’t know that, until 10 minutes ago,” Nagal said in his news conference following the win. “I’m enjoying the moment, of course, because you have to kind of enjoy these [moments] because it doesn’t stay forever.”

Nagal went viral in India last year, after he revealed in an interview that he had 900 Euros to his name, and was struggling to make ends meet as a professional tennis player.

With his second-round berth, Nagal has netted a payday of $180,000 Australian dollars ($119,151 in U.S. dollars) — more than he earned in his entire 2023 season.

“Starting the year not getting into challenger (qualifiers), to playing (second round of a) Slam on Thursday — it’s been emotional,” he said. “I’ve worked very hard with my team, and I’m very proud of myself to be able to handle the things that I’m going through and be able to perform the way I want to perform.”

Nagal, who had to leave India for Germany to pursue his tennis dream, said hopefully his latest success in Melbourne can help shift the tennis culture in India to become more self-sustaining. He said it might be easier for more prospective pros to make it if there were more tournaments, more coaches, and better facilities available in India.

“Why are all tennis players going outside India and living outside India to give themselves a chance? We should ask why. Of course, we can sit here all day and talk about it, but in a simple word I will just say it’s change the system. That’s it.”

As for what the $180,000 payday means to him in the short term?

“Obviously, I’m not crying right now, but of course, at the same time it hasn’t completely sunk in yet,” Nagal said with a smile. “You know, these moments you will go through as an athlete. Sometimes you’ll have a good year, sometimes you’ll have a bad year.”

Nagal next faces China’s Juncheng Shang, a wild card who defeated American Mackenzie McDonald in five sets, on Thursday for a place in the third round.

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