Hyeon Chung's profile on rise with Aussie Open breakthrough

Kim Young-mi, mother of South Korea's Chung Hyeon makes a sign for love as she cheers for her son after his win over United States' Tennys Sandgren in their quarterfinal at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Hyeon Chung's profile is on the rise in South Korea with his breakthrough run to the Australian Open semifinals

MELBOURNE, Australia — Hyeon Chung wasn't on Twitter before he began his historic run at the Australian Open, becoming the first Korean player, male or female, to reach the semifinals of a Grand Slam.

Now, thanks to a breakout performance at Melbourne Park that has included a win over childhood idol and six-time champion Novak Djokovic, he's achieving the kind of instant celebrity in South Korea usually reserved for K-Pop stars.

Chung has only tweeted four times since setting up the account on Wednesday, but had more than 11,000 followers within 24 hours. And counting.

"From what I've heard, it's blowing up in Korea pretty big," Chung's coach, Neville Godwin, said Thursday at Melbourne Park. "The day after the Djokovic match, he was front page in every single Korean newspaper. And deservedly so."

One can only imagine the celebrations that will ensue if he gets past his next opponent, 19-time major winner Roger Federer, to reach his first major final. The two meet in the semifinals on Friday — a match sure to be watched by millions in Chung's homeland.

"I think all the people is watching Australian Open now because we make history in Korea," Chung said following his quarterfinal win.

Tennis has never had the sort of popularity that sports such as golf, taekwondo, baseball and soccer enjoy in South Korea. Unlike Japan and China, which have marketable tennis stars, well-funded coaching systems and a number of lucrative professional tournaments, South Korea's tennis infrastructure is still relatively undeveloped.

The 21-year-old Chung is the result of an effort to try to change this. Born with poor eyesight, he took up the sport as a young child after doctors said it would benefit him to focus on the color green. After showing promise, Chung became part of a junior tennis program funded by the electronics giant Samsung to develop the game in South Korea.

"They would pay for his coach, they actually selected the coach, then obviously as he progressed it got to different levels and a different structure," said his agent at IMG, Stuart Duguid. "That's how it started."

Chung had decent results as a junior player, finishing runner-up at Wimbledon in 2013, but his future potential really became apparent last year. He notched wins over Alexander Zverev, David Goffin and Gael Monfils, and then captured the much-hyped first installment of the Next Gen ATP Finals in November.

It was about this time that Duguid recommended Chung try a new coach. U.S. Open finalist Kevin Anderson had just split with Godwin, his long-time South African coach, and Duguid thought he might be a good fit for Chung.

Chung, however, needed some convincing. He's worked hard on his English in recent years, but was hesitant to take on a Western coach due to the potential language barrier.

"Then he did a trial (with Godwin) and the trial went well," Duguid said.

Godwin had seen Chung play a few times and was excited by the prospect of working with him.

"I thought he was an incredible athlete and a very good ball-striker," Godwin said. "He's one of the most exciting movers to hit this court since Novak Djokovic broke out the slides on hard courts."

This shouldn't be surprising given that Chung looked up to Djokovic when he was young and modeled his game after the former No. 1. Chung dreamed of playing on center court at Melbourne Park because this is where Djokovic won the first of his 12 majors in 2008.

"I'm just trying to play (like) Novak because he playing good in baseline and he's mentally really strong," Chung said after beating Djokovic in the fourth round. "Today my dreams come true."

Now, Chung has another big test in the semifinals: Federer. The Swiss great is playing in his 43rd Grand Slam semifinal; Chung his first.

Federer has been impressed by what he's seen of Chung's game so far.

"I thought he played an incredible match against Novak," he said. "I mean, to beat him here is one of the tough things to do in our sport."

Godwin said Chung just has to focus on his own game plan and try not to think about Federer's presence across the net.

"It's a big moment, it's an enjoyable moment," he said. "The way he's playing, I'm sure there's going to be more, but for right now, you've got to embrace it."

Win or lose, Chung's profile will certainly only continue to grow. With the Australian Open promoting itself as the Grand Slam of Asia-Pacific, Duguid said it's a perfect opportunity for Chung to pursue opportunities with companies back home.

"Now, rather than us calling them, they're calling us," he said. "I can't remember the last time that something happened so suddenly, overnight."

___

Bruce Matthews contributed to this report from Melbourne, Australia.

Related News

Tennys Sandgren blasts media in final shot at...

Jan 24, 2018

After losing in the Australian Open quarterfinals, Tennys Sandgren saved his final shot of the...

Hyeon Chung's profile on rise with Aussie Open...

Jan 25, 2018

Hyeon Chung's profile is on the rise in South Korea with his breakthrough run to the Australian...

Zverev, poorer and poorly, pulls out of Davis Cup...

Jan 30, 2018

Mischa Zverev, feeling poorer and poorly, pulls out of Germany's Davis Cup tie against Australia

Court told Geoffrey Rush inappropriately touched...

Feb 19, 2018

A lawyer has accused Oscar-winning Australian actor Geoffrey Rush of repeatedly touching an actress...

Court told actress swore at Geoffrey Rush to...

Feb 20, 2018

Australian court documents allege that an actress who accused Oscar-winning actor Geoffrey Rush of...

Pop stars, diplomacy victims of cooling China-S....

Aug 10, 2016

Growing Chinese anger at South Korea over a U.S. anti-missile defense system bodes ill for...

You may also like these

Court told Geoffrey Rush inappropriately touched...

Feb 19, 2018

A lawyer has accused Oscar-winning Australian actor Geoffrey Rush of repeatedly touching an actress...

Hong Kong actor Andy Lau injured while working in...

Jan 18, 2017

Hong Kong actor Andy Lau has been injured while working in Thailand

Hong Kong bishop hints at Vatican deal with China

Feb 10, 2017

The head of the Catholic church in Hong Kong has expressed optimism that the Vatican and Beijing...

Jackie Chan: Hollywood competition means better...

Mar 7, 2017

Jackie Chan says letting more Hollywood movies into the Chinese market would put pressure on...

Director Jia Zhangke to host film festival in...

Mar 16, 2017

Chinese director Jia Zhangke, known for films exploring China's wrenching social changes, will host...