Wu Yibing made history Wednesday night when he reached the third round of the US Open, becoming the first Chinese male player to advance this far in tournament history (since 1881). No Chinese man had made the third round in a Wimbledon Grand Slam in 1946.
You would never know how relaxed Wu was during his post-game press conference. When a reporter told him it was the “trending topic” on Chinese social media, he reacted with a joke.
“I’m a nice guy, I guess,” Wu said, drawing laughter from the room.
The world is watching Wu, especially his fans in China. This is a great moment not only for Wu, but also for his country.
However, the 22-year-old wasn’t always destined for stardom. Wu’s beginnings in tennis came as a means of losing weight. His father Kang, a boxer, knew an athletics coach at a training facility. That coach sent four-year-old Wu to a badminton court to exercise.
“The net was too high, I was like half [the height] network, ”Wu said. “I couldn’t play it, so when we left the facility there was a tennis court and the net was lower than badminton. That’s how I started. “
It wasn’t exactly love at first sight.
“I honestly didn’t know what tennis was. I was too small, too small at the time. We had I think 15 small children [in a class], we practiced together, ”Wu said. “What we did was just shoot [and] go around the field because we were too many and we only had a few fields. This is my earliest memory of tennis ”.
Wu was given an adult racquet, which was almost as big as him. All he remembers is swinging the huge stick around.
“I was like cleaning things,” Wu said. “I had to clean all the leaves on the ground!”
When Wu was 12, the coaches started telling his parents that he had potential. The best part for him was that when he played tennis he didn’t have to go to school. But budding talent began to attract attention. Zhang Bendou, the leading tennis journalist in China, remembers the first time he met the young player.
“The first time I saw Wu was in Shanghai, I visited an indoor clay court where Wu trained that summer. [He was] 12 years, 14 years, I don’t remember exactly. They just told me that this guy really has a special talent and everything about his game is so fast, “said Zhang.” I didn’t think much about it at the time, because in the last 15 years I have seen too many talented guys. ‘and they never made it. However, Wu proved to be a truly special talent. “
Wu won the 2017 US Open men’s singles title and reached number 1 in the junior world. His countrymen, including Wu Di, with whom he won a doubles match at the 2017 Rolex Shanghai Masters, saw his potential.
“Yibing has already received a lot of attention from many national coaches and experts when he was a teenager. His accomplishments and his talent have been well recognized and he has also made progress so fast. Understanding him in tennis was beyond his age at that time, “said Wu Di.” I’ve known him since he was a teenager. [years]. We met later and then we quickly became opponents … As a teenager, he showed the potential of a future world-class player. “
Wu entered the Pepperstone ATP Top 300 in March 2019, but did not compete from March 2019 until January 2022 due to multiple injuries, including elbow, lower back, shoulder and wrist problems. Elbow surgery was the most serious problem in the group.
While in China during the Covid-19 pandemic, Wu trained, but he also did other things he never had time to do on his junior ascent. He learned to drive and even studied.
When Wu returned to the circuit this January in Mexico, disaster struck. He turned his ankle and was unable to compete again until the end of April. But instead of putting it on himself – sitting out of the world’s Top 1,800 earlier this year – he’s stayed positive.
Wu has won 32 of his 36 games at all levels this season and rose to number 173 in the world earlier this month. If he stuns world number 1 Daniil Medvedev in the third round of the US Open, he is expected to become the highest-scoring Chinese player in Pepperstone ATP Rankings history (since 1973).
“As far as the classification is concerned, I haven’t thought about it much. I just want to enjoy every game I play every time I’m on the pitch. I’m not going to start thinking about the rankings, I’m going to think [about] what I do [on the court]Wu said. “[A] ranking is just one thing. If you are playing well, the points and even the money will come. I’m not worried about that. “
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Chinese players Wu Yibing and Zhang Zhizhen both qualified for this year’s US Open. Photo credit: Dustin Satloff / USTA
Regardless of whether Wu pays attention to it or not, the pressure will increase more and more as he climbs higher. Wu Di was the first Chinese to play a match at the Australian Open and in 2016 became the first Chinese to lift an ATP Challenger Tour singles trophy, making him one of the few who can understand that pressure.
“In recent years, Chinese men’s tennis has been a bit quiet, but it surprised us all at the 2022 US Open,” Wu Di said. “The internal and external pressure and attention will make you distracted and it’s hard not to think about it, but Wu Yibing is very mature and calm in handling it. Everyone has paid particular attention to his growth since he was a teenager ”.
It wasn’t an easy path for Wu from the top of the juniors to the top of the ATP Tour, but the Chinese star is now earning rewards for his hard work. The biggest change for him has been to enjoy the sport and travel more since his return.
“I’m happy to still play tennis and have fun. I think it’s really good, I can keep my passions for tennis even if I was sick, “Wu said.” I think this [is] not easy to do. But I’m glad I did. “