Chinese fans have a new man to cheer for in the form of 17-year-old Wu Yibing.
The Hangzhou native made headlines in Flushing Meadows a few weeks ago by winning the 2017 US Open boys’ singles and doubles titles and thereby reaching No.1 in the junior rankings. He had little time to celebrate, however. When asked what his plans were, Wu smiled and said: “I go back to China. It’s a challenger. I think tomorrow starts.”
Success breeds success and the youngster orchestrated an incredible turnaround, defeating No.2 seed and world No.128 Peter Polansky in the first round and world No.62 Yen-Hsun Lu in the finals on his way to his first ever Challenger-level title at the Road to Shanghai Rolex Masters.
While the Chinese women have garnered success on the court with Olympic gold medals and trophies at the majors in doubles, a world No.1 doubles player, and of course megastar Li Na, fans of men’s tennis have had comparatively little to cheer for. Only two mainland Chinese men have ever made it to the quarterfinal stage at an ATP event – Zhang Ze in Beijing 2012 and Bing Pan, with a semifinal effort in Seoul way back in 1995. No mainland Chinese man has ever entered the top 100, with the current Chinese No.1 Zhang Ze having peaked at no. 148.
After his US Open win, Wu said his sights were set on the “top 100. Yes, the first goal. Easy.” The confident youngster is definitely headed in the right direction. Wu started the year ranked 934 but is now at 323. He reached the finals of the Orange Bowl last December and won a Futures-level tournament in February. Wu divides his training between Spain and China, and his Spanish coach describes him as a more aggressive version of athletic Frenchman Gael Monfils while Wu says he models his game after Andy Murray.
Wu now has his sights on breaking into the men’s tour, having played and won one Davis Cup match in a 5-set thriller in February and making his first main draw appearance at an ATP tournament two weeks ago in Chengdu, taking world No. 126 Thiago Monteiro to three sets in a first-round defeat. To help him make the transition, the other Chinese players have given him some advice. “Is more about mental. Try to keep tough. Try to be more focused on tennis,” Wu shared.
On the basis of his Road to Shanghai Rolex Masters Challenger title, Wu earned a wild card into the 2017 Shanghai Rolex Masters, by far the biggest tournament appearance of his young career. He faced a stiff test right away against former finalist 45 Gilles Simon in the first round, dropping a close 6-3, 6-4 decision.
Looking forward, Wu plans to work “more (on) baseline and try to go to net more times”. After the match, Simon was generous in his praise of the 17-year-old. “When he was in the zone, he hit fantastic winners, especially down-the-line. As he improves, he’ll be hard to beat,” Simon said.