‘It’s about making history and for the country,’ says tennis star Yibing after becoming first Chinese man to beat a former top-10 ranked player

Back in 2017, when a 17-year-old Wu Yibing won the US Open juniors singles and doubles titles, China’s flagship news programme Xinwen Lianbo reportedly covered the feat for 43 seconds. In the past, NBA star Yao Ming’s retirement had got a coverage of 53 seconds and Li Na’s French Open win had got a coverage of more than a minute.

On Sunday, the 23-year-old Yibing became the first Chinese man to win an ATP Tour title with a 6-7(4), 7-6(3), 7-6(12) win over American John Isner in the Dallas Open. Yibing saved four championship points enroute becoming the first Chinese man to clock a win over a former top-10 ranked player in the world.

“It’s not only about winning the title, I think it’s more about me personally making history and also for the country. That’s huge for the next generation. For me, I need to keep going, keep my body healthy. I’m sure there’s more to come,” Wu said post the title win in Dallas.

Hailing from Hangzhou, Wu’s father is a former boxer with his mother taking a young Wu for training in his younger days. The Chinese youngster had started playing tennis at an age of six on the insistence of his mother to lose weight.

At the age of 12, Wu started training under coach Carlos Rodriguez, the former coach of two-time grand slam winner Chinese tennis player Li Na and former world number one Justine Henin at Beijing before he made a shift to Spain to train under coach Nahum Garicia Sanchez. “In general, the Chinese players, we’re working a lot on the baseline. We’re missing some shots like slicing, like volleys. So this is something I’m missing from my junior time of practising, which I’m looking forward to improving,” Wu had told ATP Tour earlier about his time in Europe.

In 2017, Wu had created history when he won the US Open juniors singles’ title along with the doubles title, a feat which saw him becoming China’s first boys slam singles champion. In the final, Wu had scored a 6-4-6-4 win over Argentina’s Alex Geller. In 2018, Wu won his first ATP Challenger title in Shanghai and the same year, he drew praise from the likes of Roger Federer. “For him (Wu) to play in a tournament like this, starting to play against the best, is what I did in ’98, as well,” Federer had said during the ATP Rolex Masters in 2018.

However, Wu suffered an elbow injury next year, forcing him to be away from the game for close to three years. He made his return last year and won three ATP Challenger titles before qualifying for the US Open. The Chinese youngster reached the third round of the US Open before suffering a loss against former world number one Daniil Medvedev. Wu’s 15-match winning streak before the third round exit coupled with his three ATP Challenger Tour titles saw his world ranking rise from 1749 to 174 and later in the top-100. It also got him the ATP Tour comeback of the year award.

“I think mentally I am ready to overcome all the injuries I might come across in the near future. My body is not strong enough like other players, so I am ready to put more effort in the gym and stretching room. One of the important lessons I have to learn is how to prevent injury.”

Wu was also one of the three Chinese players to feature in this year’s Australian Open. But there was a time when Wu also faced a coaching dilemma as his mother wanted him to change coaches. At the start of 2019, Wu had to part his ways with coach Sven Groeneveld after a training stint of eight months with the coach blaming Wu’s mother for the split.

“My Coaching Update: I am no longer working with Wu Yibing. In my opinion. He has a right to have a coach whose views are better aligned with his mother. I want to thank Wu Yibing for a great past 8 months winning the Silver Medal at the Asian Games and his first win on ATP Tour,” Groeneveld had tweeted in 2019.

He currently spends his time in the USA, training at different centres. “Tennis is a lonely sport. I don’t have many friends on the Tour. I missed a few years of these tournaments. My coaches and my physio, they have to keep me up, keep me hungry about playing matches and keep me fit. All these little things make a team. Here, I can chill after a long day of practice. I can just chill on my bed and watch some great games.” Wu had told ATP tour.

The young tennis star is also a sensation on Chinese social media, where he interacts with his fans regularly over live streams. “I do it because I have some free time and I want to talk to someone. Instead of playing video games, I choose to do the live streaming and interact with all the Chinese fans. Maybe some junior players will get inspired by it. I guess gaining some supporters is never a bad thing,” Wu said.

Wu has now climbed to the 58th spot in the ATP Rankings and his title win in Dallas also drew praise from Isner. The American had smashed 44 aces in the final against Wu before the Chinese emerged triumphant. “I swear I thought I won the match a few times. I know he hit one ball, and it had to be on the back sixteenth of the line… Sports can be brutal. He is an unbelievable ball striker and a very good talent,” Isner said.

As for Wu, he will be live streaming with his fans post the title win and sounded out a warning to the fellow players. “I’ve been through a lot of things. I think the reason now I’m relaxed on tennis courts is I trust myself. If you want to beat me, you have to work hard,” said Wu.

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