In her latest diary from the Australian Open, Reem Abulleil pays tribute to Chung Hyeon and lists the best stats and quotes of the day.
HERO OF THE DAY
The first time I interviewed Chung Hyeon, he could barely speak English. It was two years ago in Dubai and even though he couldn’t say much, I could tell that the young South Korean was smart and had a sense of humour.
He can come off as quiet and shy but once he gets comfortable, you can easily spot that he’s funny.
I asked him how he was working on his English and he said he had a friend who was travelling with him and teaching him the language. “He gives me homework,” added Chung. What’s the homework? “Prison Break,” he said with a smile, referring to the American hit TV show.
Was his father a good tennis player? “He says he was,” Chung replied, a sarcastic grin in tow.
Fast-forward to last November in Milan, where Chung went undefeated to win the Next Gen ATP Finals. Not only was he oozing confidence on the court, as he took down his all his fellow Next Gen players, but Chung was just as comfortable in the press room, cracking jokes in English, like he’d been learning it for years.
On the court, Chung is a beast, as we saw from his three-hour 21-minute straight-sets defeat of Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open fourth round on Monday.
Two years ago, Chung spoke about how much he idolises Djokovic.
“Djokovic plays good baseline and is strong mentally, everything is good, perfect, that’s why I look up to him,” said a then 19-year-old Chung.
He could easily have been describing himself in his Melbourne win over Djokovic on Monday.
Chung put together such a complete performance and even though Djokovic was visibly struggling with his elbow injury, which can often be distracting for an opponent, the South Korean never wavered and finished off the match in three sets.
From the start you could see signs of unshakeable mental strength from Chung, who is playing in just his third Australian Open main draw. Djokovic on the other hand has won the event a record six times. But when Djokovic climbed from 0-4 down in the opening set and went up 6-5, Chung was unfazed and still took the tiebreak to forge a one-set lead.
That was the story the whole match. Djokovic kept fighting back, and Chung never let go. That’s how we usually describe a healthy Djokovic.
The ever-solid baseline game, the sharp angles, the passing shots, the guts… we saw all of that from Chung on Monday.
“How do you hit those shots from the corner, it’s like watching Novak but it’s you?” Jim Courier asked Chung in his on-court interview. It sounds hyperbolic but it rang so very true if you’re judging Chung on that specific match.
Yes Djokovic is injured, and yes Chung is only 21 and is ranked 58 in the world. But one can’t deny the symbolism behind a match like that. The ageing champion ravaged by a lengthy elbow injury, against the young pretender who grew up idolising him and mimicking his style.
One of Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal will probably walk away with the Australian Open title but Chung made a real statement for the Next Gen crew. And he made history in the process, becoming the first ever Korean to reach a quarter-final at a Grand Slam. The magnitude of the occasion is not lost on him.
“Today victory for my country, I think tennis coming up after this tonight,” he said in his post-match press conference.
Despite his enthusiasm, Chung’s feet are still firmly on the ground. He still puts Djokovic on a pedestal and plans on asking him for a photo one day.
“Maybe later. Maybe I want to take a picture one day. I have take picture with Rafa last year. So one by one, I think,” he signed off with a smile.
STATS OF THE DAY
4 – hours and 10 minutes, the total time Keys has spent on court across all four matches she’s played so far.
4 – Chung has recorded four straight wins at a tour-level event for the first time in his career.
6 – wins and 17 losses against top-20 opposition for Chung.
8 – hours and 44 minutes, total time Simona Halep has spent on court over four matches.
13 – consecutive victories for Kerber in 2018 (including Hopman Cup).
40 – Federer is the oldest Australian Open men’s quarter-finalist since Ken Rosewall reached the last-eight 40 years ago in December 1977.
57 – unforced errors hit by Djokovic during his three-set loss to Chung.
100 – winners struck by Keys so far this tournament.
Agent Stuart Duguid is having a great Australian Open. Both Chung and Naomi Osaka are represented by the IMG agent and they’ve both hit new career milestones this fortnight, stealing headlines worldwide with Chung making his maiden Slam quarter-final and Osaka entering the second week of a major for the first time.
QUOTES OF THE DAY
“I don’t have a plan. Actually, my boyfriend was looking her game earlier this morning. I forgot to ask him what she play, so, I actually have no plan to go on the court. So I was try to still going my Su-Wei style, you know.”
— You be you, Hsieh Su-Wei!
“Cool. That’s nice.”
— Keys when asked what she would say if she were told she was the favourite to win the Australian Open title.
“I like your optimism!”
— Berdych when told in his on-court interview that his next opponent is ‘either’ Roger Federer or Marton Fucsovics.
“To have such a great two weeks and then have it end the way that it did, it was really devastating for me, so it definitely took some time to get over.”
— Keys on losing the US Open final to Sloane Stephens last September.
“It was fun to make opponent and myself to running all the time.”
— Hsieh after her loss to Kerber. It was certainly fun to watch for us as well.
“I’m driving her crazy? Okay. This is good you told me that. Next time we try to do more (smiling).”
— Hsieh is already look forward to her next match against Kerber.
“Oh, this one was the biggest joke of a point maybe I have ever played (smiling). That thing should be anywhere else but on the other side of the court in a position where you cannot finish the point… Thankfully it didn’t decide the outcome of that second set. That would have been too much of a joke, to be honest.”
— Federer on the shank (?) below…