If you are a longtime follower of Grand Slam tennis, big upsets are moments that are to be remembered quite fondly of. Then rising ace Novak Djokovic did it against Roger Federer back in the 2008 Australian Open, while below-the-radar Juan Martin del Potro had to overcome both Rafael Nadal and Federer in the 2009 US Open. The curious case of South Korea’s Hyeon Chung in this year’s Australian Open was no different.
As Filipinos, we love seeing David beat Goliath. Manny Pacquiao wouldn’t be this big if he didn’t have his own version of a Cinderella story to share. So to see a young, practically unknown, nerdy-looking Asian stun fans by beating a former World No. 1 in straight sets, we knew it would not be hard to root for a player that had the makings of a triumphant underdog.
From the land of K-pop, K-drama, and kimchi comes another budding star with a lot of pizzazz and talent to show for, this time in the realm of tennis. Here are some of the things we found out about the 21-year-old Suwon native Chung, whose performance recently made waves in the ongoing Grand Slam of Asia-Pacific.
1. He’s the first Korean to ever reach a Grand Slam semifinal
Not only was it the first time for a Korean to reach the Australian Open semis, Chung also defeated the likes of fourth seeded Alexander Zverev and six-time Australian Open champion and former No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the process. Unfortunately, his run ended in the semis versus defending champion Roger Federer after retiring in the second set due to a foot blister.
2. Those glasses that earned him the nickname ‘the Professor’ led him to tennis
In an interview, Chung explained that his eyesight had been terrible since childhood (diagnosed with “high-level astigmatism”). This made his father suggest that he picked up tennis to improve his vision, as focusing on something green could help. Joining his older brother at parking lots and elsewhere, then 6-year-old Chung would always play with his prescription eyeglasses on, considering it already part of his body.
3. He’s become a big deal in his country (and the world) overnight
Relatively unknown in his home before the Australian Open (“Tennis, not that popular in Korea,” he said in a post-match interview), Chung instantly gained thousands of followers on Instagram (100k+ and counting) since his win against his own idol Djokovic. He also made the front page of local newspapers and had almost everyone back in South Korea suddenly watching his matches. Chung’s agent Stuart Duguid said, “Now, rather than us calling them, they’re calling us. I can’t remember the last time that something happened so suddenly, overnight.”
4. He went through a four-week mandatory military training
South Korea’s Military Service Act states that all men ages 18-35 are to serve in the military for two years, with exemptions for Olympic medalists and Asian Games gold medalists, who are then just required to participate in basic military training for four weeks instead. In the 2014 Asian Games, Chung and his partner Yong-Kyu Lim won their gold medals in the doubles category, thus only needing them to complete the four-week directive. Chung did his military training in 2015.
I finished my four weeks of military training this week and I am honored to do my service for my country. Back to…
5. Currently World No. 58, he will crack the Top 30 next week
Despite his failure to make the Australian Open finals, reaching the semifinal round was already a great boost to Chung’s campaign. By beating Zverev and Djokovic, and then Tennys Sandgren in the quarterfinals, he will only be the fifth highest Asian in the history of the ATP Rankings, next to India’s Ramesh Krishnan (No. 23 in 1985), Vijay Amritraj (No. 16 in 1980), Thailand’s Paradorn Srichaphan (No. 9 in 2003), and Japan’s Kei Nishikori (No. 4 in 2015). He will also surpass fellow Korean Hyung-taik Lee’s ranking, peaking at No. 36 back in 2007.