Chung looks ahead after U.S. Open win

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Chung looks ahead after U.S. Open win


Chung Hyeon poses for a photo during practice at the Olympic Park tennis court in Seoul on Sept. 8. By Shin In-seop

The men’s final of the 2015 U.S. Open ended with a victory for Novak Djokovic over Roger Federer last weekend, but for Koreans, the biggest story of the tournament was a single win by Chung Hyeon.

Chung, ranked 75th in the world, defeated Australian James Duckworth in the first round, becoming the first Korean to collect a win in a major tournament since Lee Hyung-taek in the 2008 French Open.

In the second round, Chung faced fifth seed Stan Wawrinka, the winner of the 2014 Australian Open and the 2015 French Open. He dragged the 30-year-old Swiss to tiebreaks in all three sets over three hours, and though Chung eventually lost, he was praised by his opponent afterwards, who went on to be a semifinalist at the tournament.

“He’s a really good player,” Wawrinka was quoted as saying by Reuters after the match. “He’s moving well. He’s a great fighter. He always tries to give you more balls to play or always tries to find solutions.”

After his performance, Chung’s name was the most-searched word on Korean portals. The Sangji University student, who won a gold medal at the Gwangju Summer Universiade in July, still can’t believe the attention he’s receiving, considering that tennis isn’t a popular sport in Korea.

In an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo last Tuesday, Chung said he hopes to do for tennis what Kim Yuna did for figure skating and Park Tae-hwan did for swimming.

Q. How do you feel after playing against Wawrinka?

A. As I’ve been playing on the ATP Tour this year, I faced some top ranked players. For the match against Wawrinka, I wasn’t that nervous. Since I used all the plays I could think of, I don’t have any regrets. I was proud after I saw the interview in which Wawrinka acknowledged me. It was the best match in my tennis career so far, but I will deliver better performances in the future.

Your world rank was 167th earlier this year, but you moved up to 69th. What happened?

Before I turned 20, my goal was to be ranked under 100 and get one victory in the major tournament, and I have achieved both. Winning the gold medal at the Incheon Asian Games last year served as a turning point in my tennis career. Thanks to the gold medal, I received a military service exemption, and so now I can focus on the ATP Tour where the world’s top players are playing. I learned about my weaknesses while playing against the top players. Last year, I was playing in the second-tier Challenge Tour and won a lot of matches, so I couldn’t easily discover my problems.

What’s your weakness?

Serving. I have increased my serve speed up to 200 kilometers (124 miles) per hour. But if you only have a strong serve without the ability to change its direction, your serve is easily recognized by the opponent. Even if its speed is slow, it’s important to pinch the serve right to the corner of the court. I work hard every day to make my serve more accurate, trying to fix some small habits during the serve such as my hand position or body control. Changing the serve form entirely will actually backfire to me.

How do you think about criticism that you don’t have your own unique weapon to win points?

I don’t have a weapon that can succeed 100 percent in critical moments, like a powerful serve or a corner-worked stroke. In decisive moments, Wawrinka earned his points with his serve. He had 26 serve aces, while I got three. But I played against Wawrinka with frequent tiebreaks throughout the third set despite not having a main weapon. This could mean that if I can improve my serve, I could defeat Wawrinka one day.

Don’t you feel stressed after spending two-thirds of the year moving around to play in different tournaments?

Everyone’s job has its own stressful parts, and mine does too. But if I didn’t play tennis, I’d just be a normal person. I can’t even play other sports like basketball, football or table tennis. I only have tennis in me. Losing a match is also stressful for me, but I realized that you have to suffer a loss unless you win the tournament. There are only a couple times a year you end up in a tournament without a loss. I realized that I have to learn and grow by losing matches.

Your name was the most-searched word on Korean portals after your U.S. Open performance. How did you find that out?

My friends told me. I’m thankful for people’s attention. I have an amblyopia [also known as a lazy eye] so I used to wear glasses, but after I became the runner-up at the Wimbledon Junior Championships, fans recommended that I wear goggles instead, which I do now. But I know that tennis is still an unpopular sport in Korea. Figure skating, swimming and rhythmic gymnastics have been also unpopular sports, but because of Kim Yuna, Park Tae-hwan and Son Yeon-jae, those sports received a lot of attention from people. Just like them, I want to perform well, and I want to make tennis a popular sport.

Does your relationship with fellow tennis player and girlfriend Jang Su-jeong help you perform well?

We have a good relationship. Since she is also a tennis player, we communicate easily. People envy me because I go overseas a lot, but when I go to foreign countries, I only go to tennis courts and never really get to go sightseeing. She understands this because she also plays in overseas tournaments.

What’s your future goal?

Next year, I will focus on playing more ATP Tour events. They really take good care of their players. These days, I sometimes worry, “What if my ranking goes lower and I have to play in lower-division tournaments?” I want to stay in the top 100 and play my matches well. Ultimately, I want to break the Korean record for ATP Tour ranking, which is 36th held by Lee Hyung-taik. In Korea, being ranked 36th looks great, but overseas, it doesn’t. I think I will play tennis for 15 years. This means that I have to go forward just like I have been playing until this day. It’s a long way ahead, but I believe there will come a day that I’ll be able to sit back and smile.


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