With the rise of Kei Nishikori, the ATP finally has a marquee player from Asia contending for Grand Slam trophies. Behind the US Open finalist, there are a few more young guns from Asia, each ready to make moves of their own. Today we’re going to introduce one of them: 18 year old Hyeon Chung from South Korea.
Players on both ATP and WTA Tours have made increased efforts to make that trip to Australia more worthwhile in recent years. As a result, the Burnie and Lauceston Challengers have been seen substantial upgrades, and several players have been reaping the increased rewards. On the women’s side, American veteran (and TTI Blogger) Irina Falconi and Daria Gavrilova have been two such players. A third is is making waves on the men’s side: a Korean teenager named Chung Hyeon.
After falling just short of the Australian Open main draw – losing to fellow young gun Elias Ymer in the final round of qualifying – and making the semifinals in the Hong Kong Challenger, Chung returned to Australia for $50,000 events in Tasmania. The 18 year-old went on to win the Burnie Challenger; he’ll face Bjorn Fratangelo in the finals of in Launceston for the chance for a second straight title. The World No. 129 will likely have a tough turn-around, having won a three-hour marathon semifinal encounter late Saturday evening. But Chung remains a favorite tomorrow against the former American junior champion, and could very well complete the Down Under Challenger Double.
Just by virtue of reaching the finals, the Korean is already the highest ranked male player in his country’s history since Hyung-Taik Lee (who reached a career high of No. 36 in 2007); going by his rapid rise over the past year, it would appear likely that there is more to come.
IMG Tennis (@IMGTennis) February 08, 2015
If you look up “IMG Academy Prodigy” in the tennis encyclopedia, the youngster might well be pictured as the very definition. After winning the 12-and-under competitions of both Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl in 2009, IMG was quick to sign the teenager and Chung began training and living full-time in Bradenton. The talent pool in Florida – under the supervision of founder Nick Bollitieri – has a list of successful alumni as long as the sky has stars.
In late 2012, Chung began playing his first Futures and Challengers events and quickly found solid results, winning his first Futures in June 2013 and reaching the Wimbledon boys’ finals a month later. He finished runner-up to fellow IMG student Gianluigi Quinzi, but took out more familiar names in Nick Kyrgios and Borna Coric along the way.
Ranked No. 541 a year ago, the South Korean won 3 ITF Futures along with the Bangkok Challenger, finishing the 2014 season at an astounding No. 151.
Perhaps Chung’s most notable signifier thus far is probably his strong glasses game. At a young age, he experienced problems with his eyesight; as a result his parents suggested he’d take up tennis.
But on to some bullet points on the bespectacled Chung’s tennis:
- Forehand: Definitely the flashier shot of his groundstrokes, and very reliant on good timing. Relatively short take-back and quick racquet head speed allow Chung to disguise direction pretty well.
- Backhand: Slightly unusual grip, but the more solid shot of the two. Able to soak up speed and change direction of the ball.
- Serve: The most glaring weakness. Changed from a pinpoint to a platform stance in the last few years, but needs more upper body rotation. The first serve is adequate but the second serve lacks punch and sits up too often. At 1.83m, he should be able to get more out of it.
- Speed: Pretty solid, good speed around the court, able to switch between defense and offense depending on situation/opponent. Court positioning, however, is not as close to the baseline as it could be on many occasions.
Particularly during Saturday’s semifinal, Chung showed good mental resolve. He was one point away from sealing his place in the final, but Jordan Thompson broke him serving for the match. Rather than collapsing, the South Korean was able to break his Australian opponent back after a long eleventh game and proceeded to hold easily to win the final set, 7-5.
Chung has stated that he wants to continue playing the Challenger circuir until he reaches the Top 100. Thanks to his good performances to start the season, it probably won’t take much longer for him to reach that goal. The main question, however, is how well he’ll be able to transition from the Challengers to the ATP World Tour – particularly given that some of the Asian and Australian Challengers don’t always boast the strongest of entry lists.
Assuming the South Korean maintains his current form, there is no reason why we shouldn’t see him in the main draw of Roland Garros in May, but the next few months will be a big test of how well Chung’s game will stand up against the rest of the ATP.
South Korea is a fairly untapped tennis market, but one brimming with potential sponsors. If Chung can improve his serve, there’s a very good chance this 18 year old is going to put his home country on the map over the next few of years – something the ATP certainly wouldn’t be unhappy about.