In China, sport is a big thing and women's tennis has been at the forefront but with Wu Yibing's history making result in Dallas, men's tennis is going to boom, writes Craig Gabriel

 

In China, Wu Yibing is the hottest commodity. What he achieved at the recent Dallas Open has placed him on the front pages of newspapers and at the forefront of social media sites. Wu Yibing created history by winning in Texas to become the first Chinese man to claim a tour level event and, in the bargain, saved four championship points and withstood a near record tally of 44 aces from John Isner in the final.

That result skyrocketed his world ranking to 58. No Chinese man has come close to that in the past. More history!

“I made history here for my country and for my home,” Wu said. “I’m very proud of myself and especially thanks to all the fans and my team. I feel happy. It’s not only about winning the title. It’s more about me personally making history, also for the country. It’s huge for the next generation. For me, I need to keep going, keep my body healthy and I’m sure there’s more to come.”

Chinese women’s tennis has been the highlight for many years and the wonderful Li Na rivalled any athlete from anywhere in the world for popularity, but now there is a new star developing a glow.

Chinese men’s tennis had not been at the level of the women although there had been some sporadic results that gained some attention, like Zhu Ben-Qiang and Zeng Shao-Xuan reaching the doubles final at the Heineken Open in 2003 in Shanghai after being awarded a wild card by tournament director Michael Luevano. The first Chinese player to be awarded a singles wild card was Pan Bing at the 250-level event in Hong Kong in 1993 where Mr. Luevano was tournament director for the first time in Asia.

There was nothing really to set the imagination alight but then there is that cliché of patience is a virtue while the Chinese have a saying: “Patience is a bitter plant, but its fruit is sweet.”  The sweet fruit has been borne with the history created by 23-year-old Wu Yibing.

 

It was about eight years ago when Mr. Luevano, tournament director of the Rolex Shanghai Masters the only ATP Masters 1000 in Asia, publicly predicted that “it’s not a case of if the Chinese men will emerge, but just a matter of when”.

“The excitement here in China is incredible with what Wu Yibing has achieved. This is by far the most important milestone in my long career here,” he said. “Li Na gave rise to women’s tennis in China, and she captured the hearts and minds of the people. Wu’s history making move will open the doors to a further explosion of tennis, and the fact that there are other men from China like Zhang Zhizhen making inroads only adds to what promises to be more exciting times ahead for tennis.”

Wu started to gain attention as a junior. He was the world No.1 after winning the 2017 US Open juniors. IMG talent scout Clinton Coleman had been keeping an eye on him and then began to work closely with the then junior. In December last year he declared on Instagram: “This young man has grown as a person and a player since we first met 14 years ago. Watch this space in 2023.” Yet another crystal ball prediction.

 

However, after winning the US Open juniors things failed to develop as would have been hoped. Injuries began to take their toll and for three years Wu was struggling to stay fit and healthy. It would not have been unexpected and quite understandable if he had decided this was all too difficult and had given away his dream. It seemed like all points from head to toe were being hit with some sort of injury.

Instead, he never lost his self-belief and remained strong and the time away helped him appreciate the sport even more: his desire for competition and playing grew even more. In 2022 he played a lot of Challenger events but there was a win over Australian Jordan Thompson at a Challenger in Zagreb that added to the belief.

“I’ve been through a lot of things,” Wu said. “I’ve been through injuries; I’ve been through many difficult situations when I was growing up. I think the reason why I’m relaxed now on the tennis court is because I trust myself. If you want to beat me, you have to work hard.”

At the 2022 US Open he won five matches from qualifying rounds to reach the second round of the main draw. At the same time Zhang, who had qualified at Wimbledon to become the first Chinese man to achieve that, also qualified at the US Open and in late October Zhang became the first man from China to break the top 100 at 97 and has so far reached a career high of 91.

The week of 6 February 2023 Wu joined Zhang in the top 100 and it marked the first time multiple Chinese men were in the top 100. And making a move to join the duo is 18-year-old lefty Shang Juncheng (Jerry) who also made history at this year’s Australian Open by becoming the first man from China to win a main draw match.

Chinese men’s tennis is on the move and the dragon is awake.

Six things you likely didn’t know about Wu Yibing:
* likes playing video games
* loves basketball and is a big Kevin Durant fan
* likes to play chess
* has learned to cook and cooks for himself 
* likes to listen to western music
* keeps in frequent touch with fans via Chinese social media site Weibo