Meet China's Brightest Rising Tennis Star
With a Grand Slam breakthrough last week at Flushing Meadows, it looks like China might finally have a new champion on its hands.
His name? Wu Yibing. His latest claim to fame? Winning the 2017 US Open boys’ singles and doubles titles and reaching No.1 in the junior rankings. With no time to celebrate, the 17-year-old hopped on a plane to the ATP Challenger stop in Shanghai, showing little signs of slowing down as he looks to make the transition from juniors to pros.
Not long after touching down on home soil following just a few hours of rest, Wu picked up where he left off in New York with a surprising 6-3, 7-6(3) win over second-seeded Canadian Peter Polansky, who himself is coming off a fine summer in North America that included three ATP Challenger Tour finals.
Wu, who hails from Hangzhou just a few hours south of Shanghai, recognises the immediate impact of his US Open triumph. “I think it was a great experience for all the Chinese tennis players and [Chinese] associations,” said Wu. “We showed the world that we can do it for boys’ and men’s players also.”
With the exception of the year-end ITF Junior Masters in Chengdu, the Chinese teenager’s focus now shifts to the professional circuit, where he hopes his junior success will translate.
“I think it’s about the rhythm and how the players are thinking about the matches,” said Wu on the biggest difference in playing the pros. “They [are more] tough mentally and [have] more experience about how to win the match. About the technique... I think I am ready already.”
And Wu has reason to be confident in his game: In addition to his decorated junior resume, the foundations of his game are well set to develop into tangible threats at the ATP level. He’s quick on his feet, solid on the forehand wing, and generates exceptional racquet head speed on his backhand, a shot that cuts through the court and changes direction with ease.
Incidentally, it’s not difficult to see why Wu cites Andy Murray as the player he models his game after. “I’m trying to learn something from him, they way he plays and how he thinks; how he defends, how he chooses good timing for offensive [shots]... I think I can learn a lot from him.”
Despite major tennis successes by Chinese women, including two-time Grand Slam champion Li Na, China has waited patiently for a male champion to rise to the occasion of being the face of tennis in a country with greater tradition in other sports.
“I think that it’s the best thing [ever],” said Wu when asked about the impact that Li had on tennis in China. “She’s the first one to give us hope; real hope that young players can get to that level.”
Wu, however, isn’t without his own successful Chinese predecessors: Wu Di and Zhang Ze have paved the way for a younger generation of Chinese players in men’s tennis following their recent ATP Challenger victories in Maui (2016, d. Edmund) and San Francisco (2017, d. Pospisil), respectively.
Yet as both Wu Di and Zhang Ze can relate, with great success comes immeasurable pressure. Their 17-year-old countryman acknowledges the pressure that a nation of over 1.3 billion people can place on young, talented shoulders such as his own.
“I think we don’t need to [have] too [much] pressure to be the same like Li Na, but we have to try to be at that level and work harder every day. Sometimes when I lose I want to give up,” admits the 17-year-old, candidly. But looking forward to the rest of the season – where he hopes to finish in the Top 300 of the Emirates ATP Rankings – and to 2018, he knows quite simply what improvement he has to make.
“I have to keep my mind tough.”
Wu will put his toughness to the test next against Shuichi Sekiguchi in the second round of the Shanghai Challenger.