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Lulu Sun, Kiwi qualifier with global connections, into Wimbledon quarters

  • Vivienne Christie

Much has recently been made of Lulu Sun’s international connections, which span from New Zealand to China, parts of Europe and to Texas in the United States.

Born in Te Anau on New Zealand’s South Island – “A very small town (with) practically more sheep and deer than people,” she jokes – Sun lived for a short period in Shanghai before moving to Switzerland with her mother at the age of five.

“I’m really happy to be able to have so many cultures and backgrounds with me,” said Sun, the daughter of a Chinese mother and a Croatian father, and with a stepfather who is German-English.

But the 23-year-old perhaps currently feels most at home in south-west London, given the form she has struck in her Wimbledon debut.

From a steadily improving start in qualifying – when Sun saved a match point in the second round against Czech Gabriela Knutson – the world No.123 has now won seven straight matches in her life-changing Grand Slam campaign.

Sun’s first-round upset of Australian Open 2024 finalist and No.8 seed Zheng Qinwen was her first completed victory over a top-100 player; she then added further wins over higher-ranked opponents in Yuliia Starodubtseva and Zhu Lin.

But it was a hard-fought win over Emma Raducanu that arguably showed how comfortable Sun feels on the famous All England Club grass.

A first meeting with the British wildcard was also Sun’s maiden appearance on Centre Court.

“Walking through the doors … I was thinking 'wow, I've never seen this' and I was just like looking around and taking it all in for the first time,” she smiled.

It was all business, though, as Sun tackled the biggest opportunity of her career so far; in a nerveless performance, she struck 15 winners compared to two from Raducanu to secure the first set.

Raducanu, who famously claimed the US Open 2021 title as a teenage qualifier, recovered to force a decider, but Sun maintained composure – and pressure – to claim a 6-2 5-7 6-2 win after two hours and 50 minutes.

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“I think staying aggressive was definitely a key point to the match,” said Sun, who ultimately tallied 52 winners and won 23 of her 28 net points.

“It worked well because getting her to move and getting her on the defence was what I wanted because as soon as she gets aggressive on her side, then the chance gets smaller for me.”

She revealed she studied Wimbledon champions Roger Federer, Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf competing at the All England Club to hone her grass-court skills.

“It was just amazing to watch them,” Sun commented. “(I) was just taking it all in and trying to do that in my game.”

The considered approach is perhaps helped by Sun’s extensive education.

As she contemplated her path in professional tennis several years ago, the then-teenager was also managing an injury; her mother urged her to take up the opportunity to study at the University of Texas and while pro players were halted by pandemic-related lockdowns, Sun completed a degree.

Her majors, in International Relations and Global Studies, couldn’t be more apt given her many connections throughout the world.

Lulu Sun, speaking to the press at Wimbledon, revealed she studied Wimbledon champions Roger Federer, Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf to hone her grass-court skills. [Getty Images]

While Sun developed her game in Switzerland as a young player, she also retained her links to New Zealand. Having felt the support of local crowds while competing at the WTA tournament in Auckland at the start of the season, Sun decided to represent the country of her birth.

“It wasn't an easy decision because it never is when you have to choose between two things,” said Sun. “All the countries that I have been in and grew up (in) or have a link to, they will always be within me in a way. I don't think that's ever going to leave.”

Now dividing her time between Miami and Slovakia – where her coach, Vladimir Platenik, is based – the trilingual Sun will have many supporters as she faces Donna Vekic in the Wimbledon quarterfinals.

Already the first New Zealand woman to reach Wimbledon’s final 16 in the Open Era (and only the second, after Ruia Morrison in 1959), Sun appreciates the inspiration she’s creating in her history-making journey.

“To reach the quarterfinals, I think it's a major step because it brings inspiration and it brings to all the players in New Zealand something to look up – not just for myself, but as the country as a whole, as the tennis in New Zealand, to be able to look further,” she said.

Helped by qualities instilled from those close to her – Sun explains she inherited work ethic and discipline from her mother, and a calm approach from her father – the surprise quarterfinalist is also drawing on support worldwide.

“I feel the energy from people around the world. I'm super grateful from wherever it's coming from, from wherever in the world it's coming from,” she smiled.

“Just a little support comes a long way, whether it's from a random stranger or from someone close to you.”