Wu Yibing: China's rising talent already making waves

Wu Yibing created Chinese tennis history by winning the boys’ singles and doubles titles at the US Open. Local fans will be able to cheer for him at the Shanghai Rolex Masters.

Wu Yibing holds the championship trophy after defeating Axel Geller of Argentina in their Junior Boys’ Singles finals match of the 2017 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York last month.

Wu Yibing walked into the spotlight when he created history for China’s men’s tennis by winning both the boys’ singles and doubles titles at the 2017 US Open last month, and followed it up by winning the Shanghai’s ATP Challenger championship to clinch a wildcard to the 2017 Shanghai Rolex Masters.

The Zhejiang Province native, who turns 18 this month, was ranked 321 in the world in September.

“Winning the US Open boys’ singles title was within my expectations and my goal of the tournament,” Wu told Shanghai Daily. “The doubles title was the icing on the cake.

“Playing two matches a day was actually very tiring, but I am quite strong mentally that helped me conquer my physical limitations.”

It was a quality that stood out even during this interview. Wu was relatively calm and composed while talking about his achievements so early in his career — a trait that played a part in his success so far.

After triumphing in New York on September 10, Wu became China’s first boys grand slam singles champion. A week later, he marked another milestone in Shanghai when he clinched his first ATP Challenger Tour title without dropping a set. His opponent in the final was world 62nd ranked Lu Yen-Hsun from Taipei, who withdrew from the match after losing the first set tie-break. The victory also made Wu the third Chinese player to win the Challenger after Wu Di and Zhang Ze.

But will Wu be able to extend his run of success further or struggle as the others before him?

Unlike two-time WTA grand slam winner Li Na, who was first groomed by China’s national sports system before chalking her own path, Wu’s family gave him unconditional support, including financial, right from the beginning.

His early successes on the court caught the attention of the Zhejiang Province sports bureau, which then got involved in his development.

Wu took up tennis to lose weight, but he always saw himself chasing a career in sports largely due to his father, who was a boxer.

“I was actually a good student in school and never wanted to give up my studies,” said Wu. “I have been seeking a balance between studies and sports.

“Knowledge is important. To make up for the sacrifices in school, I would read books and learn things myself. English for example ... I could only understand one or two words of a sentence in the beginning. But practicing for long, it’s not so much a problem now.”

Ti Gong

Wu Yibing won the ATP Challenger title in Shanghai.

Wu has a Spanish technical coach with whom he communicates in fluent English. He also has a therapist. As a member of Zhejiang Province tennis team, Wu also has support from the Chinese coaches. Wu’s mother is an important member of his team and follows her son to most tournaments. She has been picking up on her tennis knowledge and even helping Wu to deal with his emotions.

At the ATP Shanghai Challenger, Wu Yibing had partnered another Chinese player Wu Di in doubles. The pair reached the semifinals where they lost to Japan’s Matsui Toshihide and Yi Chu-Huan from Chinese Taipei.

Wu Di expects his partner to enjoy more success than his predecessors as tennis in China was receiving more attention and support than before.

“Players like me and Zhang Ze are like explorers. The growth of tennis (in China) has to endure a certain procedure. I already overtook my predecessors, and Wu Yibing will certainly overtake us,” Wu Di said.

“I have been asked to comment on Wu Yibing a lot these days. His growth has been witnessed by a lot of people, and he already has great technical skills.

“I may tip him off on some certain points during a match, but I don’t really think he needs my advice regarding the development of his career, which is already on the right path,” Wu Di said.

Compared to players of Wu Di’s generation, Wu Yibing was blessed with more opportunities and experiences of playing abroad. While playing in Europe, Wu Yibing trains in Spain. In Asia, Wu stays with the Zhejiang team.

“I started playing early and encountered all kinds of players as well as different atmospheres. To be able to adapt to something quickly is also my talent,” said Wu Yibing.

Wu said bottom line rally and serves were his strong points. He has also been improving his net play. He is also enjoying commercial success after impressive results in youth tournaments.

“The support and sponsorships ensured that I can concentrate on playing,” said Wu. “I still need to learn from players like Wu Di as well as experience. After all, they have reached a position I haven’t reached yet.”

Wu Yibing said the US Open boys’ competition was the last youth tournament he attended.

“I want to keep my competitiveness in the grown-up tournaments. I want to finish this year inside 300 in rankings, and then target the top 100.”

Age is undoubtedly on Wu Yibing’s side.

“Actually I never give too much thought to age when taking on any opponent,” said Wu.

“When facing a 30-year-old player, I never regard age as an advantage or disadvantage. It’s more about the understanding of the game. But I do think I’m more mature than players of my age. And I’m pretty sure about my choice for the future — to keep playing tennis.”

Although Britain’s Andy Murray is his idol, Wu Yibing is more eager to take on Roger Federer at the 2017 Shanghai Rolex Masters. That, off course, will be decided by the draw.

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