Shortly after Wu Yibing made tennis history on Wednesday by becoming the primary Chinese man to succeed in the third round of the U.S. Open, a tournament that dates to 1881, he was informed that his name was on fire on Chinese social media platforms like Weibo and WeChat.
Fans and admirers in China were spreading the word that Wu, a past U.S. Open junior champion, had just beaten Nuno Borges of Portugal in a tricky five-set match that lasted nearly 4 hours. Not only was Wu the primary Chinese man to advance into the third round on the U.S. Open, he became the primary to succeed in the third round of a Grand Slam event since Kho Sin-Khie, an Indonesian-born player who competed under the Chinese flag, did it at Wimbledon in 1946.
As a groundbreaking player with aspirations to raise men’s tennis in China, just because the retired two-time major champion Li Na did for Chinese women, Wu, 22, was asked what that form of social media attention back home meant to him.
“That I’m a good-looking guy,” he quipped, eliciting uproarious laughter from reporters at a late-night news conference.
That could be true, but Wu has other talents that might help make him one of the crucial influential players in the sport. Primarily, he is excellent at tennis, with a whole arsenal of shots and the court savvy to squeeze the most effective out of his ability. And his answer to that query illustrated he has an interesting personality that might also help draw others into his orbit.
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“He may be very outgoing and likes to joke around,” said Gerardo Azcurra, his coach. “He isn’t afraid to speak.”
But as much as Wu enjoys kidding around, he also understands his place in the sport. He knows he is able to influence the best way a whole sport is perceived by thousands and thousands of individuals in China, and how briskly it may grow. Along along with his friends Zhang Zhizhen, 25, and the 17-year-old rising star Shang Juncheng, he is a component of the core of China’s emerging men’s tennis hopes to not only to play well on tour, but to develop the sport back home.
“I even have the responsibility to do it, and with my ability, it is going to all the time be a part of my profession,” Wu said. “I believe it may really help kids to like tennis, to listen to the game. Before Li Na, we didn’t have many tennis facilities in China. But then it got more popular and hopefully I can bring much more tennis to China.”
Wu began playing as a young boy in Hangzhou, China. His father, Wu Kang, was an amateur boxer and felt his son needed to get more physically fit. Wu initially tried badminton, but the web was too high and he couldn’t get the shuttlecock over it. So, he settled on tennis, where the nets are lower and the aspirations higher.
Inside a number of years, Wu was winning local tournaments after which regional ones. By the point he was 16, he was competing internationally.
He first drew the eye of broad swathes of Chinese tennis fans when he won the U.S. Open junior tournament in 2017, in each singles and doubles. It was a breakthrough that earned him an invite to coach on the I.M.G. Academy in Bradenton, Fla., to work on his game and learn English — which he did extremely well. It was also where he first met Azcurra.
Azcurra left I.M.G. three years ago to teach privately, and Wu asked in January in the event that they could reunite. Wu moved into Azcurra’s house in Bradenton they usually have formed a productive relationship, with Wu winning 4 lower-level tournaments this yr.
“He has had some little injuries, some illness,” Azcurra said, “but each time he comes back stronger. He injured his ankle, got here back and won a Futures tournament. He got sick, but got here back and won a Challenger.”
On Friday, the stakes will grow exponentially when Wu plays Daniil Medvedev of Russia, the No. 1 seed and defending champion, in Arthur Ashe Stadium. It can be the largest match that Wu, ranked No. 174, has ever played. In a dizzying few months with Azcurra, he has gone from the outskirts of the tennis tour to its largest stadium.
In April, Wu was ranked 1,738th and playing in Orange Park, Fla. In July he was playing a Challenger event (a minor league tournament) in Rome, Ga. But he did well enough to earn a probability to qualify for the U.S. Open, which he did, and now he’ll face the highest player on the earth under the lights in Ashe.
Wu shrugged when asked how daunting the challenge might be against Medvedev.
“All tennis players watch his matches, we understand how good he’s,” Wu said during an interview Thursday afternoon. “I respect him, but after we are on the court, we’re opponents competing against one another. Not one of the rankings matter. I would like to point out that I’m not scared or whatever. It’s only a match.”
Presumably, many individuals in China might be listening to how Wu fares, each on the court and on social media. He has a Weibo account, but Li Xi, his agent, jokes that he has only about 150,000 followers, a comparatively small number in a rustic as populous as China.
“That you must post more,” she said with fun.
“That’s not my job,” he responded.
His job is to play tennis, win matches and provides the occasional interview. So, when a reporter asked if there was anything he would really like so as to add, Wu smiled.
“That’s enough,” he said. “I’ve already given you loads of information.”