South Korea's new tennis sensation set to give rivals nightmares: Coach

PHOTO: Reuters

MELBOURNE - Nightmares loom for players dreaming of grand slam success if they have the misfortune of running into bespectacled bogeyman Chung Hyeon in coming years, according to his coach Neville Godwin.

South Korea's new sensation became his country's first grand slam semi-finalist on Wednesday with a 6-4 7-6(5) 6-3 defeat of Tennys Sandgren, proving a waking bad dream for the 97th-ranked American at the Rod Laver Arena.

Like victims Alexander Zverev and Novak Djokovic before him, Sandgren hammered away desperately at Chung, only for the unseeded Korean to keep returning with a zombie-like resolve.

Unspoken of before the tournament among the lists of contenders, let alone the top young guns, Chung will battle defending champion and 19-times grand slam winner Roger Federer in one of the more unlikely semi-final match-ups.

"Obviously, he moves around the court incredibly well, and he's incredibly flexible," Godwin, who began working with the 58th-ranked Chung last year, told reporters at Melbourne Park.

"Everyone has their strengths, but for Hyeon, I think it would be a nightmare to play against him because he basically out-Djokovic-ed Djokovic (on Monday) which is something that not that many people have been able to do."

Chung's blazing run through the Melbourne Park draw has appeared like a bolt from the blue on the surface, but the 21-year-old has shown flickerings of promise for a number of years.

Tennis: S Korean Chung Hyeon knocks Novak Djokovic out of Australian Open

  • South Korean star Chung Hyeon's dream came true Monday as he dumped six-time champion and his idol Novak Djokovic out of the Australian Open in a sensational fourth round upset.
  • The 21-year-old beat the battle-weary Serb, who was clearly in pain as he stretched for balls, 7-6 (7/4), 7-5, 7-6 (7/3) in 3hr 21 min in a night match on Rod Laver Arena.
  • Chung, the first South Korean man to reach the round of 16 at the Australian Open, will face American bolter Tennys Sandgren in the quarter-finals on Wednesday.
  • Two years ago Djokovic outclassed Chung in straight sets in the opening round of the Australian Open, but the South Korean spectacularly reversed the result with three hard-fought sets against the Serb in the fourth round.
  • Djokovic, who sought treatment for his troublesome right elbow and an apparent hip or groin injury when stretching for balls, battled through in great discomfort, as Chung stayed composed and mentally tough to claim his biggest win.
  • "I didn't know if I was going to win this match tonight, but I was just honoured to play with Novak again," said Chung.
  • "When I was young I was trying to copy Novak because he's my idol. I'm just trying to play Novak because he playing good in baseline and he mentally really strong as well. "I can't believe this, my dreams come true tonight."
  • Djokovic showed the effects of playing four rounds in his first tournament back after six months out since Wimbledon with elbow trouble.
  • "Chung was the better player in the decisive moments. 7-6, 7-5, 7-6, over three hours, three-and-a-half hours, it was very long, a lot of rallies," Djokovic said.
  • "He had to earn his victory. At least I wanted to challenge him to earn it without me handing it to him. That's what he has done, so well done."
  • Djokovic made a horror start to the match with two double faults in each of his two opening service games for a double break.
  • It got worse for the Serb former world No.1 as he screamed in agony stretching for a point, but he gingerly carried on with the signs of wear and tear plainly visible.

The parts have all clicked in a devastating way in Melbourne over the past fortnight but the best is very much yet to come as he matures and enjoys more structure to his scheduling.

"We have changed some technical things on his serve, which he's a lot more comfortable with now," said South African Godwin, who ended his partnership with big-serving compatriot Kevin Anderson last year.

"He has the option now of serving a high percentage or getting a free point or going for an ace... and he's feeling a lot better about that.

"It's not quite the finished product yet, it's still quite a work in progress but that's definitely improved.

"I'd also like to see him use his phenomenal speed to get up the court a little bit more and use it more in offence rather than only on defence."

THINKING OF HISTORY

Although nicknamed "professor" for his scholarly look, Chung has shown humour on the court, working the crowd with a hand-flapping celebration like many a show-boating NBA player.

He also showed himself endearingly human as he blew a 40-0 lead while serving for the match against Sandgren, joining the long list of athletes blinded by visions of the trophy when closing in on victory.

Five match points came and went before he sealed the win with a thumping forehand to the corner that proved too hot for Sandgren to handle.

"If I win one more point, I make history in Korea," Chung said of his wobble.

"I (was) thinking about the ceremony."

Chung's qualification for the semi-finals is certain to trigger a new round of front page headlines in South Korea's newspapers on Thursday, a country which has hitherto had a very limited tennis history.

Similar to Asia's first grand slam singles champion Li Na, who was overwhelmed by the attention the Chinese woman's 2011 French Open triumph garnered back home, Chung would need to brace for big change on the domestic front, said Godwin.

"I don't think that anyone is ever ready for that kind of thing," he said.

"It hits you much bigger than you can imagine.

"He maybe doesn't feel the outside effects of it. He will feel it when he gets (home). It will be interesting to see but I think he'll handle it fine."

 

Purchase this article for republication.

SERVICES