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Spotlight: Wu Yibing

  • Matt Trollope

When Wu Yibing won the 2017 US Open boys’ title to become junior world No.1, he was asked about his career goals.

“Top 100. Yes, the first goal. Easy,” the Chinese talent replied.

He recently achieved that goal – but it took him almost five-and-a-half years to get there.

Tennis journey

That was because his career was completely derailed by injuries and the COVID pandemic.

In the season following his junior breakthrough, Wu briefly cracked the top 300 and reached the second round at the ATP Shanghai Masters, where he pushed Kei Nishikori to three sets.

But from March 2019, elbow, back, shoulder and wrist injuries – his elbow required bone surgery in 2020 – plus travel restrictions sidelined him for almost three years.

He returned to competition in early 2022, raring to go.

He won 13 of his first 14 matches, and by mid-season he was absolutely flying, winning three ATP Challenger titles.

Next he qualified for the main draw of the US Open – becoming the first Chinese man to ever do so – and progressed to the third round, building a 15-match winning streak.

He closed 2022 with a 40-7 record and ranked 116th.

Wu continued thriving in 2023, reaching an ATP Challenger final in Cleveland to crack the top 100 then enjoying a monumental week in Dallas.

There, he beat Denis Shapovalov, Taylor Fritz and John Isner to become the first Chinese player to win an ATP tour title.

“It’s like he’s been held back from the world of top-level professional tennis and he’s just been unleashed on us all,” observed broadcaster Catherine Whitaker, speaking on The Tennis Podcast.

“It’s like he’s been incubating in a chrysalis and now he’s emerging as a butterfly. It’s really cool.”

The stat

Wu was ranked 1,869th in March 2021; in less than a year he has vaulted to world No.58, making him the highest-ranked Chinese male player in history.

What to watch for

The 23-year-old told the ATP Tour that he admired NBA star Kevin Durant for his on-court coolness and limited displays of emotion. 

That influence appeared to shine through in the Dallas final; Wu was impossibly calm and level as he saved four championship points against the vastly-more-experienced Isner in the Dallas final.

There is a generally relaxed, loose feel to his game, with Wu rarely appearing hurried as he executes his groundstrokes.

His ability to accelerate the racquet and inject pace is thrilling, and his forehand in particular is a devastatingly heavy weapon.

Throw into the mix dazzling speed, athleticism and court coverage, and you get an extremely watchable player.

All of these elements came together in the point below, which the commentator described as “absolutely absurd”.

When he’s not playing tennis

Wu enjoys playing video games and listening to Chinese music, but has a particular passion for cooking.

“I’m pretty into cooking TV shows, which I watch every day. I love cooking different food and I think this also gives me inner peace when I’m alone in the house or after practice,” he explained.

He has also done some modelling, with a recent shoot in GQ China.

Wu said…

“It’s not only about winning the (Dallas) title. It’s more about me personally making history, also for the country. It’s huge for the next generation.”

Experts are saying...

“I’m really surprised how he played in the first set. He was hitting the ball very clean, coming to the net a lot and playing aggressive. I couldn’t do anything in that first set… He was playing like top-50 or top-30 tennis first set. I was really happy to see that. If he can stay focused and work hard, I’m sure he’s gonna be a very good player.”
- Kei Nishikori, after beating Wu at the 2018 Shanghai Masters.

“I felt like it was a high-level match because he played great. The only thing he's lacking is serve to be like top 10, top 20 in the future. He was playing good. Returns were unbelievable. When he was on the ball, one of the best I ever saw.”
- Daniil Medvedev, after defeating Wu at the 2022 US Open