July 11, 2024

Open Court

MORE TENNIS THAN YOU'LL EVER NEED

For Hyeon Chung, a star-making moment

MELBOURNE, Australia – The game-style similarities are so evident that even Novak Djokovic himself can see it.

And in a “changing of the guard” moment created, in part, by the six-time Australian Open champion’s ongoing elbow issues, a younger, bigger, fresher version announced himself on one of tennis’ big stages.

Hyeon Chung’s 7-6 (4) 7-5, 7-6 (3) victory over Djokovic was a three-act play that was testament to the 21-year-old Korean’s confidence, resistance and consistency.

In each set, Djokovic gamely tried to catch up after falling behind. But his lack of match play and the pain in his elbow and hip wouldn’t allow it. And Chung himself, in part, also wouldn’t allow it.

And so, two days after defeating the player of his generation most expected to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal first in No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev, it is Chung who is the first player from his country to reach the final eight at a major.

And he did it Djoko style, his game an hommage to the player he first saw win the Australian Open years ago.

“I’m really just happy, I really don’t know I’m going to win this tonight. I’m just honoured to play with Novak again, I’m happy to see him back on the Tour,” Chung said during an on-court interview.

The flexibility, the strength in the corner, the wall Chung puts up for his opponent to try to break through – all are hallmarks of the veteran Serb’s game. And while Chung’s ranking is actually higher now than it was a year ago, he is unquestionably a better player now.

Chung

“You know, we do play very similar. He definitely has the game to be a top-10 player, without a doubt. How far he can go, that depends on him. Obviously I respect him a lot because he’s a hard worker, he’s disciplined, he’s a nice guy, he’s quiet. You can see that he cares about his career and his performance,” Djokovic said. “So I’m sure that he’s going to get some really good results in the future.”

The experience Chung got playing the Next-Gen Finals in Milan, coming through to win the title at that first-time exhibition event, is showing in his poise.

“When I’m young, I’m just trying to copy Novak because he’s my idol,” Chung said.

He added that he didn’t panic when Djokovic made the third-set tiebreak a tight one. Chung joked that he still had two chances left to try to win a third set if he couldn’t pull it off. And if he had to play two more hours, no worries,

“I’m younger than Novak, so I don’t care!”, he laughed.

Short-term pain, long-term gain

The 21-year-old has missed chunks of time over the last few years because of injuries. That might have stalled his rise some but in the end, might be blessings in disguise as the breaks have allowed him to chart his own course without, say, the relentless pressure that Zverev has absorbed over the last two years.

And Chung clearly is being developed for the long term. That’s something that a lot of players and coaches – especially on the women’s side – should take notice of.

“I don’t know my future, but I think this win is one of the positive signs for my future,” Chung said in his native Korean in a post-match interview. “I really hope my future shall be bright.”

The opportunity to go further in the tournament is certainly bright.

Chung will play unseeded American Tennys Sandgren in the quarterfinals on Wednesday. One of them will get the opportunity to face either defending champion Roger Federer or No. 19 seed Tomas Berdych in the semis.

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