Chung charges into final four
Chung charges into final four
If Hyeon Chung still thinks he can take a wander down Seoul’s busy Myeongdong Street unrecognised, he’ll do well to reassess that after becoming the first Korean to reach a Grand Slam semifinal on Wednesday.
The 97th-ranked Tennys Sandgren – an American who had been more accustomed to plying his trade on the Challenger circuit – was his latest victim in a closely contested 6-4 7-6(5) 6-3 quarterfinal clash at Rod Laver Arena.
Chung admitted previous wins over world No.4 Alexander Zverev and six-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic to reach the last eight would likely have sparked an interest in the sport he ranked as a distant fifth in popularity back in his native South Korea.
“I think all the people is watching Australian Open now because we make history in Korea,” Chung said before he admitted he would not go quite so unnoticed back home after this Australian Open. “I think sure, yeah. Getting better and better all the time now.”
Nicknamed ‘The Professor’ for his white-framed glasses, the 21-year-old did not suffer the mental letdown after beating his childhood idol Djokovic on Monday night.
His latest result breaks huge new ground for the nation of 51 million people.
And amid all the hype about to come his way, this is one kid who doesn’t take himself too seriously.
“I make semis, I beat like Sascha, Novak, the other good players,” he said. “I never playing in second week in Grand Slam, so I'm really surprised.”
Being in a favourable time zone, Chung agreed the Australian Open was the major that had the most impact on Asia.
It was the 2008 men’s final, where his idol Djokovic won his first Grand Slam title, which had the Korean captivated.
The flow-on effect was profound. This was the major he now had his heart set on.
“I think Australian Open because Novak and (Jo-Wilfried) Tsonga playing in Australian Open finals,” he said. “Novak playing first final I think in Grand Slam. I just saw his match.”
In contrast to his two previous matches, Chung was expected to win this one against a man he had beaten only two weeks ago in Auckland.
Sandgren was enjoying a breakout Australian Open of his own. In two prior Grand Slam main draw appearances, he had never won a match. His victims over the past week included former champion Stan Wawrinka and No.5 seed Dominic Thiem but against Chung he started slowly, conceding an early break for 1-2.
After dropping the first set, the 26-year-old from Tennessee lifted his level. He rallied from an early break down and went on to break again to serve for the second set at 5-3. Two points from the set, however, he tightened up. A forehand dumped into the net handed the Korean the break back for 4-5.
Chung capitalised and lifted his hands to rouse the crowd as he surged to a two-set lead. This was a momentum swing he was keen to carry into the third.
The American saved one match point serving to stay in it, and when Chung let triple match point slip a game later, the magnitude of what he was about to achieve clearly weighed heavily.
The Korean saved a break point in a 31-shot rally, but on his fifth match point, some exceptional reflex volleys from Sandgren kept him alive and brought much of the crowd to its feet.
Chung’s passage through was confirmed on match point No.6.
“I think last game many things come together,” Chung said. “If I win one more point, I make history in Korea. Something I [was] thinking like that. I have to think about the ceremony, something.
“Anyway, I have to stay calm because… the match is not finished yet.”
Arms outstretched and soaking up the ovation, his parents and older brother stood as one with new coach Neville Godwin.
Tomas Berdych or defending champion Roger Federer will be next. The Professor has little cause to get swept up in the hype. It's worked just fine for him so far.