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Beginner’s Guide: Wu Yibing carries 1.4 billion hopes and dreams into Daniil Medvedev clash at the US Open
Having started the year ranked No. 1121, the Chinese qualifier has already made history by reaching the third round in Flushing Meadows.
Published Sep 02, 2022
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NEW YORK—When the COVID-19 pandemic put sports—and the rest of the world—on pause in 2020, many athletes’ careers were left up in the air.
Even more so for Chinese tennis players like Wu Yibing, who had to watch from home in Hangzhou, China as international tournaments started back up again while he was still stuck at home. With travel bans and national policies preventing him, and many of his peers, from traveling and with professional-level tennis tournaments dwindling at home—what’s a Chinese tennis player to do?
For Wu, the answer was to get to work.
He played exclusively on the domestic circuit for two years, and finally returned with a vengeance to international competition at the start of the year. Wu’s effort paid off in a big way, and at the US Open, the 2017 junior champion became the first Chinese player in the Open Era to compete in the main draw after battling through qualifying.
But he’s not done making history yet. Our beginner’s guide:
The son of a boxer, Wu was introduced to tennis at the age of six by his parents who wanted him to stay in shape. By age 10, he was already getting scouted as a promising talent.
“All the coaches, they were talking with my parents that this kid has a talent,” he recalled after his US Open second-round win. “I mean, I don't really know what's in me. I don't know what they meant.
“Whenever I play internationally, I feel, ‘Oh, this is something I'm good at, not only in our country, but in international-wise.’”
It hasn’t always been a straightforward rise. The No. 1 ranked junior in 2017 after his US Open boy’s victory, he struggled to transition to the pro tour. And he was beset by injuries at every turn: according to ATP Tour, Wu suffered issues with his elbow, lower back, shoulder and wrist. In 2020, had a piece of bone surgically removed from his elbow.
When he’s not playing tennis, the 22-year-old can probably be found listening to music—he’s a big Jay Chou fan—or live-streaming for his legion of fans on Chinese social networks. After his second-round win over qualifier Nuno Borges he was a hot trending topic on Weibo and WeChat, but he wasn’t exactly shocked.
“I'm a good-looking guy, I guess,” he joked with a laugh.
With injuries behind him and lockdowns lifted, Wu returned in earnest to the ITF Circuit in April and immediately made his mark. Winning an ITF M15 event in Orange Park was his first big international result in more than three years—but he followed up with even bigger victories.
He tore through the draw at the ATP Challenger event in Orlando with wins over the likes of Christopher Eubanks and Jason Kubler. At Georgia’s Rome Challenger, he lifted the trophy after victories over promising Americans J.J. Wolf and Ben Shelton. And in Indianapolis, he claimed his second Top 100 win of the year over Peter Gojowczyk on his way to the title.
Having started the year ranked No. 1,121 on the ATP Tour rankings, he reached a career high No. 173 in August.
Having qualified for the US Open—a historic feat in itself, the first Chinese player in the Open Era to do so—he made a statement in his Grand Slam debut, dismantling No. 30 seed Nikoloz Basilashvilli 6-3, 6-4, 6-0 to become the first Chinese player to win a major singles match in 63 years. A 6-7 (3), 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory over qualifier Nuno Borges sent him through to the third round.
“The tournament is still going on. There's no time for celebrate yet,” Wu said. “I have a tough opponent next round. That's my mindset. I'm here to play the tournament.
“When the tournament finishes, we do parties, but not during the tournament.”
Why It Matters
Wu will be hoping to put off those parties for a while longer, as he’ll get the biggest test of his career in his next match: No. 1 seed Daniil Medvedev awaits.
This won’t just be a massive occasion for Wu; whichever way this match goes, it could end up being a significant turning point in the history of men’s tennis in China.
It brings to mind the way women’s tennis exploded in the country after Li Na lifted her first Grand Slam trophy at the 2011 French Open. Her win triggered a flood of investment and a wave of new WTA events in China, providing a stepping stone for domestic women's talent to break out into the international scene.
Despite a massive population of 1.4 billion, there has yet to be a Chinese player to emulate the Li effect for the men—but Wu is hoping his wins can inspire more up-and-coming players to dream of Grand Slam glory.
“I think if there is a first time, there is going to be a second time, a third time,” Wu said of his historic victories in Flushing Meadows. “I'm happy that I'm the first guy to make history.
“But the more important [thing] is this bring the hope to all the Chinese fans and the kids so we can have more great players in our country, which I think we should have long time ago.”