Player Features

India's Nagal: From sleepless nights to Australian Open history

On Tuesday, 26-year-old became first Indian man to beat a seed at a major since 1989
January 17, 2024
Sumit Nagal enjoys anime, driving and hiking.
WILLIAM WEST/AFP via Getty Images
Sumit Nagal enjoys anime, driving and hiking. By Sam Jacot

Sumit Nagal has endured a torrid past four years.

The Indian’s rollercoaster journey has featured hip surgery, Covid and battles against his own internal demons. He dropped as low as No. 638 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings in 2020, having been inside the Top 130 just two years earlier, putting his career in major doubt.

“After Covid I played a few decent tournaments in 2020. I don’t think I played too badly at a Challenger in Cologne. But I came out of the match there and started feeling a bit of pain in the hip. I was thinking it'll go away. The season was ending anyway,” Nagal told “But I came back in 2021, not being able to walk, struggling, limping and then figuring out, ‘Okay, this is what it is’.

“I took a few months to figure out what to do in 2021. It was impossible. Because there were days when I would not be able to sleep. I would wake up if I would turn on the bed. Jumping to 2022 coming back after the surgery I had very tough draws. I played Jason Kubler who was 100, Michael Mmoh and Jack Sock.

“So I was like, ‘Okay, those are tough first rounds’. Especially when I haven't played for a long time. Then it was probably one of the worst summers I ever had. I got injured in another tournament. I think that put me in a little bit of a dark spot in 2022. And then I just wanted to be done with the year. I was in South America for two months and towards the end I was just not even wanting to see a tennis court. I just wanted to be home and look for 2023.”

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Nagal, who took a set off Roger Federer at the US Open in 2019, ended 2022 with less than €1000 in his bank account and at No. 502 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings.

A wild card entry into qualifying at a Challenger event on home soil in Chennai in February 2023 provided the impetus he needed to start to climb again. Nagal reached the semi-finals, before he won a Challenger Tour title in April, four years after his last.

“Coming to 2023 the reality hit me with the ranking,” Nagal said. “It was probably one of the toughest periods because when you don't know if you're going to get into a tournament or not, it's so tough to schedule.

“Coming out of February after a good run in Chennai I was at a spot where I was a little bit more comfortable with getting into tournaments. And from there I felt like this was my second chance in tennis. I put everything in it. Trying everything. I had probably one of the best six months, seven months from April to November.”

Fast forward to today and Nagal’s journey has hit a peak. The 26-year-old, currently No. 127 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings, upset 31st seed Alexander Bublik in straight sets to reach the second round at the Australian Open. It was just his second main draw major win (US Open 2020) and a reward for all his hard work.

“I was in Melbourne on the 26th of December to get ready for the Slam because that was the biggest goal and I felt like all these things paid off,” Nagal said. “It's a very emotional and proud feeling at the same time after everything. Emotional because 12 months ago, there were a lot of thoughts, a lot of negative thoughts as well. I was able to turn it around and give myself another chance to do what I wanted to do.”

Nagal stated he needs to ‘keep performing’ if he is to continue to raise awareness of tennis in India, a country of 1.4 billion.

Ahead of his second-round match against #NextGenATP Chinese star Shang Juncheng, the Indian spent time playing his country's national sport, cricket, at the MCG, where he stood on the hallowed turf.

"[It gave] flashbacks to my childhood. I grew up playing cricket a lot," Nagal said. "Even though I never went to the cricket academy, just playing on the streets, with friends when I was seven, eight, nine. It is crazy how I got to see this stadium through tennis and not through cricket. What a pleasure it was to step on the MCG ground and have a walk around.

Nagal faced several balls, with the Melbourne Cricket Club team bowling at him in the indoor nets. He faced a mix of lefties and righties, bowling spin and pace.

"[Batting] was a challenge because I have never really batted padded. The ball felt very fast, even though I play tennis where I see the ball at 200 kmh. It felt very fast but those guys were nice, they went easy on me."

<a href=''>Sumit Nagal</a> at the MCG.
Photo: Tennis Australia

Aside from watching cricket, Nagal loves anime, a style of animation originating in Japan, exploring nature and driving. He revealed all three hobbies help him switch off from the pressures of professional sport.

“When I was young I was in Canada for a few years and that's where I fell in love with anime,” Nagal said. “I would miss my parents but to keep me busy, I would watch anime. I just fell in love with it. I’ve got a Japanese samurai, a Japanese temple and a Japanese flower tattooed.

“I love to drive. Sometimes you rent a fast car or drive a fast car. Sometimes you go out with your friends. I am a sucker for views. If there are nice views, I would walk or drive. In any sport or any type of job where you want to be good at it, you have pressure. Sometimes seeing nature, it makes you get back to reality or makes you appreciate what you have around yourself is not too many people have.”

Nagal’s victory against Bublik was the first win against a seed by an Indian men’s player at a major since 1989. He will aim to become the first Indian man to reach the third round at a Slam since Leander Paes in 1997 (US Open) when he faces Shang on Thursday in Melbourne.

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