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Chung Hyeon makes Korean history - again

‘The Professor’ will face reigning champion Federer in semifinals
Jan 25,2018
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South Korea’s Chung Hyeon celebrates after defeating the United States’ Tennys Sandgren in the quarterfinals at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne on Wednesday. [AP/YONHAP]
Chung Hyeon continues to sail through the Australian Open, beating world No. 97 Tennys Sandgren of the United States in straight sets in the quarterfinals at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne on Wednesday.

Chung, currently ranked No. 58 in the world, is the first Korean ever to advance to the semifinals of a Grand Slam tournament.

Chung, nicknamed “The Professor” because of his white-framed glasses, got off to a great start in the first set, winning 6-4. In the second set he continued his momentum to take the lead once again.

However, Sandgren didn’t make it too easy for Chung, quickly catching up after winning three straight games to tie the set at 3-3. Sandgren pulled out ahead, taking the set to 6-5 before Chung forced the game to a tie-break. Chung won the tie-break 7-5, taking the second set.

Chung cruised through the third and final set, winning 6-3. While he was leading 5-3, Sandgren made a last-minute attempt to get back into the game, but The Professor taught Tennys a thing or two about tennis.

“[In the] last game many things come together,” Chung was quoted as saying on the ATP website. “If I win one more point, I make history in Korea… I had to stay calm because the finish - the match is not finished yet, so I’m just trying to stay calm until [I] finish the match.”

Chung and Sandgren facing each other in the quarterfinal came as one of the biggest surprises of the tournament so far, as they were two of the lowest-ranked players in the field. The two are considered the biggest upsets in this year’s Australian Open, as Chung defeated No. 4 Alexander Zverev Jr. in the round of 32 and former No.1 Novak Djokovic of Serbia in the round of 16.

“I’m really surprised because I really don’t know. I make semis, I beat like Sascha, Novak, the other good players. I [have] never played in the second week in [a] Grand Slam, so I’m really surprised,” Chung was quoted as saying on the ATP website.

“He’s a fantastic player,” Sandgren was quoted as saying by ATP. “This is the second time I played him now in two weeks. It’s fun. It’s such a fun challenge because he does so many cool things with how he moves and how he returns and how he plays with his forehand. It was kind of like an extremely difficult puzzle to try to figure out. I wasn’t able to figure it out, but I enjoyed trying.”

Prior to the match, Sandgren also had a big win by defeating No. 5 Dominic Thiem of Austria in the round of 16.

Chung started playing tennis at age six to improve his eyesight. As he was always frowning, his mother took him to the hospital and found out that he has astigmatism. An optician recommended that Chung focus on the color green - his family felt that tennis was the best option.

Tennis turned out to be the right choice. Chung is the youngest player to reach the Australian Open semifinals since Marin Cilic in 2010 and the lowest ranked player to get there since Marat Safin, No. 86, in 2004.

Chung has proven popular both at home and abroad, quickly becoming a fan favorite and getting loud applause from the crowd in the stadium.

The international media has also taken a liking to Chung, with the Guardian saying, “the likeable South Korean instead has received nothing but plaudits, not only for his sensational, Novak Djokovic-like tennis, but also for his humble, unassuming demeanor.”

With the advancement to the semifinals, Chung has guaranteed himself 880,000 Australian dollars ($705,000) in prize money as well as 720 ranking points.

The points are likely to allow Chung to set a new Korean record in the world ranking, exceeding retired player Lee Hyung-taik’s highest ranking at No. 36. Currently, Kei Nishikori of Japan is the highest ranked Asian player and holds the record for the best finish among Asian players in a Grand Slam tournament, runner-up at the 2014 U.S. Open.

Despite only being a quarterfinals match, Chung’s performance on Wednesday will go down as one of the most-viewed sporting events in Korean history, having exceeded accumulated viewers of 4,900,000 viewers watching the live broadcast online. The match had up to 690,000 viewers watching at the same time on portal website Naver, the third-highest number ever for a sporting event.

Chung will play world No. 2 and reigning champion Roger Federer in the semifinals at 5:30 p.m. on Friday evening Korean time. If Chung advances to the final, he may get inside the top 20 in the world ranking.

“I’m not done with the tournament yet,” Chung said. “So please keep cheering me on. I’ll see you on Friday.”

BY KANG YOO-RIM, PARK SO-YOUNG [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]