Melbourne: Sumit Nagal, India’s top-ranked singles player, was left with less than a thousand dollars in his bank account at one point last year so it was no surprise he was beaming on Tuesday after ensuring a bumper payday at the Australian Open.
The world No 137 had battled his way through three rounds of qualifying and in the first round proper guaranteed himself a cheque for at least A$180,000 (Dh437,026) by stunning 31st seed Alexander Bublik 6-4, 6-2, 7-6(5) on Court Six.
It was the biggest win of his career and he became the first Indian man in 35 years to beat a seeded player in a Grand Slam singles draw, matching Ramesh Krishnan’s feat in ousting defending champion Mats Wilander at Melbourne Park in 1989.
Relying on wild cards
“Obviously, I’m not crying right now but at the same time it hasn’t completely sunk in,” the 26-year-old told reporters.
“These moments you’ll go through as an athlete. Sometimes you have a good year, sometimes a bad one.
“Last year was probably one of the best years … (from having only) €900, not getting into events for the first few months and relying on wild cards… to finishing inside the top 130.
“From where I started, I was pretty proud of myself to be able to give myself another chance to be here, to qualify and play a second round. It’s a good feeling.” Like most children growing up in India, Haryana-born Nagal wanted to be a cricketer, but it was his teacher-father who insisted he swap bat and ball for a racket.
He famously took a set off Roger Federer in a first-round loss at the 2019 US Open on his Grand Slam main draw debut and reached the second round the following year before losing to eventual champion Dominic Thiem.
Enduring a tough time
The Indian, who trains in Germany, endured a tough time with injury and had hip surgery in 2021, but battled back and captured two challenger titles last year to climb into top 150.
“I’ve worked very hard with my team and I’m proud of myself to be able to handle the things I’m going through and be able to perform the way I want to,” Nagal said.
The eyes of the world’s two most populous nations will be on Nagal when he takes on China’s Shang Juncheng in the next round but the Indian is not dwelling on the match too much.
“I want to go through this moment, take my time, enjoy being with my coach and have a conversation,” Nagal said. “Maybe eat a burger and call it a night.”