Sumit Nagal out of Australian Open after making history for India

Sumit Nagal’s historic run at this year’s Australian Open has come to an end after a second-round defeat to Shang Juncheng on Thursday.

After defeating Kazakhstan’s Alexander Bublik on Tuesday, Nagal became the first Indian man to win a match at the Australian Open in 11 years, pocketing $118,000 ($180,000 Australian dollars) in the process.

The victory also made him the first Indian man to defeat a seeded player in the singles draw of a grand slam for 35 years.

However, Nagal couldn’t continue his memorable journey at Melbourne Park, falling in four sets – 6-2 3-6 5-7 4-6 – to Shang.

At one point last year, tennis player Nagal had less than $1,000 in his bank account. Struggling to gain entry to tournaments, he was facing a battle to keep afloat his career as India’s top-ranked player.

But at the start of 2024, the outlook is far more positive and his bank balance is all the better for it.

“I’m enjoying the moment, of course, because you have to kind of enjoy this,” the 26-year-old told reporters after beating Bublik in straight sets. “It doesn’t stay forever. You never know in tennis what happens next.”

Only four Indian tennis players have ever won a grand slam title and all of them have been in doubles. The nation of more than 1.4 billion people has less pedigree when it comes to singles, but Nagal, who has a career-high ranking of 122 in the world, wants to see more Indians competing at the top of the sport.

“There was a time where we had a lot of singles players playing in the slams,” he said. “I feel like we are missing quite a bit in the last few years, and my goal is to change that in the next years.

“When I stop tennis, whenever I stop tennis, I hope I can have an impact on the country where we can change the system and have people playing in the singles draw as well.”

With many singles players choosing to live abroad – Nagal is based in Germany – he wants to see more tournaments, more coaches, and better facilities in India, a country in which cricket dominates the sporting landscape.

Nagal’s opponent on Thursday was an 18-year-old rising star who has himself made history for another Asian country.

Shang became the first male player from China to win a singles match at the Australian Open in the Open Era last year, and he overcame American Mackenzie McDonald in five sets on Tuesday to once again get off to a winning start in Melbourne.

Shang celebrates during his Australian Open win against Mackenzie McDonald. - David Gray/AFP/Getty Images
Shang celebrates during his Australian Open win against Mackenzie McDonald. - David Gray/AFP/Getty Images

“[There’s] a good Chinese crowd here, so they were supporting me like crazy,” Shang told reporters after his first-round match. “Thanks to them, there was good energy on the court.”

Despite regularly hosting ATP and WTA Tour tournaments, China, which has a marginally smaller population than India, has suffered from a dearth of male singles players, though that might be starting to change.

In 2022, Zhang Zhizhen became the first Chinese man to break into the top 100 of the world rankings, while Wu Yibing became his country’s first man to win a singles match at the US Open in the Open Era that same year, then won a first ATP Tour title in February.

The 27-year-old Zhang has also reached the second round of this year’s Australian Open, and a deep run in Melbourne could see him break into the top 50 for the first time in his career.

Shang bids for more glory

Shang goes by the first name Jerry – a nod to the cartoon character.

“Tom and Jerry has been around for a long time and I’d say that was my favorite show,” Shang, who trains at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, told the ATP website. “I think my parents would like me to be as smart as the mouse Jerry.”

The teenager is looking to add to his family’s wide-ranging sporting resume: his father played soccer for China, while his mother was a world champion table tennis player.

He will now face the tough challenge of playing Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz in the third round at this year’s Australian Open.

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