Before the US Open, Hyeon Chung's last tour-level event was in February, in Rotterdam. Sidelined by injury after a first-round exit, it has taken some time for Chung to rediscover his form, but the 23-year-old former Australian Open finalist's talent has never waned. That showed through two rounds in Flushing Meadows, during which Chung won two five-set matches.
Still, squaring off against Rafael Nadal in the third round was going to be a completely different—and taller—ask.
“He's coming with big confidence. I know how tough it is coming back from injuries,” said Nadal in his pre-match interview. “But when you are back, the energy is higher than anyone, and he's experiencing that and I know it will be a very dangerous one."
It was dangerous for Chung, too. Nadal, who won Toronto this summer, lost just five games in his opener and received a walkover—his first at a major—over Thanasi Kokkinakis in the second round.
“I feel so sorry for Thanasi that he had too many injuries,” said Nadal, who has had his share of injuries in the past. “So I really wish him all the best in the future."
Despite not playing his best tennis against Chung, early breaks in the first two sets were enough to give the former world No. 1 a two-set lead. Two more breaks sent him to the finish line, closing out the match in straights, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2.
"I'm happy to be in the fourth round one more time," Nadal said in his on-court interview. "This court is so unique and special with the energy that the crowd brings."
For Chung, it’s been a tough physical journey to get to this point. At his breakthrough Slam, the 2018 Australian Open, the South Korean upset Novak Djokovic in straight sets in the third round, before retiring during his semifinal match against eventual winner Roger Federer with foot blisters. Having followed that effort with back-to-back-to-back-to-back quarterfinal runs in Delray Beach, Mexico, Indian Wells and Miami, he suffered an ankle injury two months later, which kept him off the tour for two months.
In February, a career-threatening back injury kept him off the tour for five months. He returned to the competition in July, winning his first event at an ATP Challenger in Chengdu.
Nadal, who won’t have to face either Djokovic or Federer before the final, awaits the winner of the match between 14th-seeded John Isner and 22nd-seeded Marin Cilic.
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