MELBOURNE, Jan 23 (Reuters) - Tennis success has proved elusive for South Korea but the east Asian nation can expect a belated rush of glory if young gun Chung Hyeon has his way.
On Monday, the bespectacled 21-year-old became the country’s first player to reach a grand slam quarter-final by felling one of the game’s all-time greats in Serbian Novak Djokovic.
He went one better than the two Koreans who made a fourth round, with Lee Hyung-taik the last to make the last 16 at a grand slam at the 2007 U.S. Open.
“Yeah, today (is a) victory for my country, I think tennis (is) coming up after this tonight,” Chung told reporters with a smile after his stunning 7-6(4) 7-5 7-6(3) victory.
On the strength of his performance against former world number one Djokovic, a six-times champion at Melbourne Park, South Korean tennis could be set for the stratosphere.
World number 58 Chung, who won the ATP’s “NextGen” event for the world’s top 21-and-under players last year, will face American Tennys Sandgren for a semi-final place as he continues a trajectory many pundits see leading to a top-five ranking.
Two years after losing in straight sets to Djokovic on Rod Laver Arena, Chung showed he has learned plenty in the interim.
“There’s a big difference. Obviously, he’s physically stronger,” said 12-times grand slam champion Djokovic.
“Also, as you mentioned, mature. I think he got some big matches in the last 15 months on the big stage.
“I think that helps to build a confidence and experience, to know what to do in deciding moments.
“Today he was great in those moments. He showed no weaknesses, not many. I mean, he was really consistent, played a great match.”
Chung will be favourite to beat world number 97 Sandgren, who burnished his own fairytale by beating fifth seed Dominic Thiem on Monday.
“Yeah, he’s a really good player,” said Chung. “I think he made a first quarter-final, same like me. I’m just ready for him.”
Editing by Ed Osmond