Hyeon Chung, who will become the first Korean to play in the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam tournament when he meets Tennys Sandgren here at the Australian Open on Wednesday, might never have played tennis but for his poor eyesight.
When Chung was just six years old his doctor told his parents that looking at the colour green would help with his vision. It helped that he came from a tennis-playing family. His father, who is now a tennis coach, and his older brother, Hong, both play the game.
Chung’s talent on the court was evident from an early age and at 13 he went to the United States for two years, where he trained at the IMG Academy in Florida founded by Nick Bollettieri.
His current training base is in the South Korean capital of Seoul, while he is coached by a former South African player, Neville Godwin, who worked with Kevin Anderson until the end of last year.
When he was growing up Chung admired Novak Djokovic, the man he beat here in the fourth round on Monday, because of his “fantastic game and mental strength”. Chung reached No 7 in the world junior rankings and was runner-up in the boys’ singles at Wimbledon in 2013.
Chung’s athleticism, defensive skills and ability to counter-attack are reminiscent of Djokovic, as is his capacity to slide into his shots even on hard courts, which are his favourite surface. Wimbledon is his favourite tournament and his backhand is his favourite shot.
The 21-year-old Korean’s breakthrough year came in 2015, when he climbed 122 places in the world rankings to finish the season as the world No 51. His fellow players voted him the “Most Improved Player of the Year” in the annual Association of Tennis Professionals awards.
His progress slowed in 2016 because of an abdominal injury which kept him out of the game for four months, meaning he missed both Wimbledon and the US Open.
In 2017 Chung reached the semi-finals in Munich and the quarter-finals in Barcelona before winning his first title in November when he triumphed at the inaugural Next Gen ATP Finals. He won all three of his round-robin matches in Milan before beating Daniil Medvedev in the semi-finals and Andrey Rublev in the final.
In his first two tournaments this year Chung lost in the second round in Brisbane to Britain’s Kyle Edmund and in the quarter-finals in Auckland to Spain’s David Ferrer.
While tennis is not the biggest of sports in Chung’s homeland, two Koreans in particular have made a mark on the sport in the past. Hyung-Taik Lee reached the last 16 of the men’s singles at the US Open in 2000 and 2007, while Duk-Hee Lee reached the same stage of the women’s singles in New York in 1981.
“In my country tennis is not popular yet,” Chung said. “I want to make it more popular.”
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