Suwon is a province just outside Seoul in South Korea with a estimated population of 1.2 million people. In the heart of it you’d find a street which is named after former PSV Eindhoven and Manchester United footballer Park Ji-Sung. Suwon is where he grew up before going on to represent his country at three World Cups. Park is one of the greatest sportsman to ever come out of South Korea, but now Suwon has another local hero to cheer: Chung Hyeon.
The 21-year-old tennis sensation became the country’s first Grand Slam semi-finalist after beating Tennys Sandgren in their quarter final clash at the Australian Open. Chung is the youngest player to make it through to the final four since Marin Cilic in 2010, and the lowest ranked player to achieve the feat since Marat Safin in 2004.
It’s been a memorable run for the unseeded Korean. He defeated another fast rising star in Alexander Zverev in round three, before getting the better of six-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic in the last 16.
Now he will be preparing for a semi-final against not just the defending champion, but the greatest player of all-time in Roger Federer. If the dream is to continue, Chung will have to produce the best performance of his young career to stun both the second seed and the world.
But if you asked any tennis follower whether he deserves to be in this position, then you’d get a unanimous yes.
The world number 58 has made a steady rise up the rankings since turning professional four years ago. Before that, he performed admirably in the junior tour. In 2013, he came runner-up in the Wimbledon boy’s singles, and reached as high as world number seven in the junior rankings.
In the year he turned pro, he won the Bangkok Open – his first Challenger tour event, and in 2015 he broke into the top 150. Chung received a wildcard for the Miami Open (a prestigious Masters tour event), where he reached the second round. Two more Challenger titles beckoned in April, which resulted in him climbing into the top 100.
Chung’s rapid rise up the rankings coincided with his first taste of Grand Slam tennis at Wimbledon in 2015, where he lost in the first round to Pierre-Hugues Herbert.
Later that year he would win his first Grand Slam match at the US Open, defeating James Duckworth to set up a second round meeting with fifth seed Stan Wawrinka. Despite losing in straight sets, Chung showed his potential by taking the Swiss to a tiebreak in each set.
The Korean – then just 19 years old – won the ATP Most Improved Award after climbing over 120 places to world number 51 by the end of 2015.
More progress was made last year. Chung defeated Frenchman Gael Monfis on his way to the semi-finals of the BMW Open in Munich before getting to the third round of the French Open.
The Korean qualified for the Next Generation ATP Finals in Milan last November and went on to win the competition- defeating Andrey Rublev in the final.
Chung’s performances have been a welcome surprise for the many who have pondered how the sport will look when the likes of Rafa Nadal, Andy Murray and Roger Federer retire.
For years, men’s tennis has been a monopoly controlled by four (or five) players – Federer, Murray, Nadal and Djokovic (and arguably Wawrinka).
Now they are coming towards the end of their careers, it’s good to see that young players – such as Chung – are rising through the ranks and look ready to step into the big shoes they leave behind.
Whatever happens in his semi-final, it has been quite the journey for Chung. I imagine the people of South Korea are immensely proud of their new hero, and will be hoping that he can become the country’s first Grand Slam champion in years to come.
People have already compared Chung and Murray in terms of playing style and being a beacon of hope for their respective nations. The 30-year-old Scot has had the weight of the British public on his shoulders since bursting onto the scene over a decade ago. Now it could be the 21-year-old’s turn to carry the hopes and dreams of South Korea in major tournaments going forward. Time will tell if he can handle all the attention and all the pressure to succeed.
Perhaps in 20 years’ time the city of Suwon will have another street named after a local sport star, one that currently has an extremely bright future ahead of him.