Wu Yibing made history on Wednesday night when he reached the third round of the tournament US Openmaking it the first male Chinese singles player to advance this far in tournament history (since 1881). Since then, no Chinese had reached the third round of a Grand Slam Wimbledon 1946..
You’d never tell by how relaxed Wu was during his post-game press conference. When a reporter told him he was the “hot trending topic” on Chinese social media, he responded with a joke.
“I’m a handsome guy I guess,” Wu said, causing laughter in the room.
The world is watching Wu, especially his fans in China. This is a great moment not only for Wu, but also for his country.
However, the 22-year-old wasn’t always destined for stardom. Wu’s entry into tennis was a means of losing weight. His father Kang, a boxer, knew an athletics coach at a training facility. This coach sent four-year-old Wu to a badminton court for practice.
“The net was too high, I was like half [the height] of the network,” Wu said. “I couldn’t play that, so when we left the facility there was a tennis court and the net was lower than badminton. That’s how I started.”
It wasn’t exactly love at first sight.
“Honestly, I didn’t know what tennis was. I was too small then, too small. I think we had 15 little kids [in a class], we practiced together,” Wu said. “What we did was just one shot [and] run a circle of court because we were too many and we had few dishes. That’s my first memory of tennis.”
Wu was given an adult bat almost as tall as him. All he remembers is swinging the massive stick around.
“I was like cleaning stuff,” Wu said. “I had to wipe all the leaves off the floor!”
When Wu was 12 years old, coaches started telling his parents that he had potential. The best part for him was that he didn’t have to go to school to play tennis. But the emerging talent was beginning to draw attention. Zhang Bendou, the leading tennis journalist in China, recalls the first time he met the young player.
“When I first saw Wu in Shanghai, I visited an indoor clay court where Wu was training that summer. [He was] 12 years old, 14 years old, I can’t remember exactly. You just told me that this boy really has a special talent and everything about his game is so fast,” Zhang said. “I didn’t really think about it much at the time because I’ve seen too many ‘talented kids’ in the last 15 years and they never made it. However, Wu has proven that he really is a special talent.”
Wu won the 2017 US Open Boys’ singles title and reached No. 1 in the junior world. His compatriots, including Wu Di, with whom he won a doubles match in 2017 Rolex Shanghai Masters – saw its potential.
“Even as a teenager, Yibing received a lot of attention from many local coaches and experts. His results and talent were well recognized and he progressed so quickly too. His understanding of tennis was beyond his age at the time,” said Wu Di. “I’ve known him since he was young [years]. We met later and then we soon became opponents… As a teenager he showed the potential of a future world-class player.”
Wu broke the top 300 in the Pepperstone ATP rankings in March 2019 but did not compete from March 2019 to January 2022 due to multiple injuries including elbow, lower back, shoulder and wrist issues. The elbow surgery was the group’s most serious problem.
During the Covid-19 pandemic in China, Wu trained but also did other things he never had time for during his junior promotion. He learned to drive and even went to college.
When Wu returned to the circuit in Mexico this January, disaster struck. He twisted his ankle and wasn’t able to compete again until the end of April. But rather than digging into himself — sitting outside the world top 1,800 earlier this year — he stayed positive.
Wu has won 32 of his 36 games at all levels this season and rose to 173 in the world rankings earlier this month. When he stuns world No. 1 Daniel Medvedev in the third round of US Openhe is expected to become the highest-ranked Chinese player in the history of the Pepperstone ATP rankings (since 1973).
“I didn’t think too much about the ranking. I just want to enjoy every match I play when I’m on the pitch. I won’t start thinking about rankings, I will think [about] what I do [on the court]’ Wu said. “[A] Ranking is just one thing. If you play well, the points and even the money will come. I’m not worried about that.”
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Chinese players Wu Yibing and Zhang Zhizhen both qualified for this year’s tournament US Open. Credit: Dustin Satloff/USTA
Whether Wu pays attention or not, the higher he climbs, the greater the pressure. Wu Di was the first Chinese to play a match at the Australian Open and in 2016 he became the first Chinese to win an ATP Challenger Tour individual trophy, making him one of the few who can understand the pressure.
“It’s been a bit quiet in Chinese men’s tennis for the past few years, but he’s given us all a big surprise US Open 2022,” Wu Di said. “The inner and outer pressure and attention will distract you, and it’s hard not to think about it, but Wu Yibing is very mature and calm in dealing with it. Everyone has paid special attention to their growth since they were young.”
It hasn’t been an easy journey for Wu from the top of the juniors to the top of the ATP Tour, but the Chinese star now deserves the rewards for his hard work. The biggest change for him since his return has been to enjoy the sport and travel more.
“I’m glad I still play tennis and enjoy tennis. I think it’s really good, I can keep my passion for tennis even though I’ve been injured badly,” Wu said. “I think that [is] not easy to do. But I’m glad I made it.”