By Peter Rutherford
SEOUL (Reuters) – Tipped as one of the few contenders capable of beating Rafa Nadal at Roland Garros this year, rising South Korean talent Chung Hyeon will owe his brother a debt of gratitude if he manages to defeat the Spaniard on his favourite surface.
Chung gave Asian tennis a lift by reaching the Australian Open semi-finals in January and while that campaign came to an end when he retired injured due to blisters against eventual champion Roger Federer, the 21-year-old has since proved the stunning run was no fluke.
Rising to a career high of 19 in the world last month, Chung reached the quarter-finals on the hardcourts of Delray Beach, Acapulco, Indian Wells and Miami before making it to the last four on clay at the Munich Open.
The only blip on his stellar 2018 came with a first-round exit to Robin Haase in Madrid.
While Chung has played only two matches against Nadal, losing both last year, the South Korean revealed at the Australian Open he had been preparing to face the Spaniard for most of his tennis life thanks to his earliest adversary — his brother Hong.
“It was similar like mini-tennis,” said Chung, who has modelled his game on Novak Djokovic.
“My model was Novak, and my brother liked Rafa because he is playing also lefty.”
Chung conceded the “Spaniard” had got the best of him in those early encounters.
“I think Rafa won because Novak was too small,” he added.
Chung is unlikely to describe himself as being “too small” now. Standing 185 cm tall and weighing in at 83kg, he exhibits the same defensive solidity as his idol Djokovic but his athleticism and power have earned comparisons with Nadal.
Nicknamed “The Professor” because of his thick glasses, Chung is still adapting to the physical demands of life on the ATP Tour and his all-action style puts a tremendous strain on his body.
In addition to missing an event to let his Australian Open blisters heal, Chung skipped a clay-court tournament in Houston and the Barcelona Open last month due to physical ailments.
Chung, who reached the quarters in Barcelona and the BMW semis last year before going out in the third round at the French Open, is well aware of the intense physical toll the clay-court season can take.
“I have to be cautious not to get injured as the clay courts place huge demands on stamina,” he told The Korea Times last month. “I think I will have better results than I did last year as I have fully recovered from the blisters on my feet.”
(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)