Despite loss to Wawrinka, Chung may be S. Korea’s best tennis player ever

September 3, 2015
Hyeon Chung, of South Korea, returns a shot to Stan Wawrinka, of Switzerland, during the second round of the U.S. Open tennis tournament, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

Hyeon Chung, of South Korea, returns a shot to Stan Wawrinka, of Switzerland, during the second round of the U.S. Open tennis tournament, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

By Brian Han

South Korea’s Chung Hyeon made sure world No. 5 and reigning French Open champion Stanislas Wawrinka had to earn his way past the third round of the U.S. Open on Thursday.

The two competitors battled for over three hours in a match that only lasted three sets — all of which ended in tie-breaks. Even though both players showed a drama-filled mix of brilliance and exhaustion, Wawrinka came out on top 7-6(2), 7-6(4), 7-6(6) over his opponent.

The 19-year-old Chung is quickly proving that not only is he one of South Korea’s rising talents, he’s one of the Association of Tennis Professionals’ (ATP) brightest young phenoms. Wawrinka would agree.

“I’m happy to get through, it could have been more than three sets,” Wawrinka told reporters after the match. “He played some great tennis in those tie-breaks and I’m happy to win this match. [He] can be really good, for sure, he’s young and already playing well.”

He became the first South Korean tennis player on Tuesday to win a grand slam singles match in seven years. The last time that happened was in the 2008 French Open when Lee Hyung-taik won his first round.

Lee became one of his country’s first players to make a real impact on the professional tennis scene in decades, and his career reached a peak in 2003 when he won both a singles and doubles title.

The furthest a South Korean has ever made it in a grand slam event is to the round of 16, which Lee did twice. It was also accomplished by female tennis professional Lee Duk-hee at the 1981 French Open.

“[Chung Hyeon] is strong-willed and works very hard,” Lee Hyung-taik told the Korea Times back in January. “In one or two years, I expect he will nudge his way into the top 100.”

Chung exceeded those expectations and broke into the top-100 just two months later. He was ranked no. 69 going into Thursday’s match.

Lee’s highest career ranking was no. 36 at the age of 31. Chung has won three titles on ATP’s Challenger Tour in 2015 and if he keeps improving on his nascent career, he could easily become the highest ranked South Korean player ever.

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