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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Nov. 15)

2017/11/15 07:12

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Korea's Nishikori?

  Chung Hyeon's ATP victory gives hope for Korea's tennis

Chung Hyeon became the first Korean to win an Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) tour title in more than 14 years last week.

Chung wowed Korean fans with his victory at the Next Generation ATP Finals in Milan, Italy, a season-ending tournament for players aged 21 and under.

Tennis is not as popular a sport in Korea as baseball, but the rare ATP victory by the 21-year-old has grabbed attention. Chung was met with cheering fans at the airport when he arrived in Korea, Monday.

His ATP title is particularly meaningful because it has taken more than a decade for a Korean to win one.

The last time a Korean player won an ATP tournament was in 2003 when Lee Hyung-taik won the Adidas International in Sydney at age 28. Lee was once ranked as high as No. 36 in the world.

After Chung's victory, Lee told the media he believed Chung would not only outdo his record, but also exceed the achievements of 2014 U.S. Open finalist Kei Nishikori.

The Japanese superstar reached his career-high singles ranking of world No. 4 in 2015 and has won 11 singles titles. He was the first Asian male player to reach a Grand Slam singles final. The 1989 French Open champion Michael Chang has been coaching Nishikori since January 2014.

Chung, ranked No. 59 in the world, and Nishikori met in a historic all-Asian match in the third round of the French Open in June. Chung lost, but showed he is able to compete with top rankers.

Some media reports liken him to 2010 Olympic figure skating champion Kim Yuna, who sparked unprecedented interest among Koreans in figure skating and inspired a whole new generation of children called "Kim Yuna kids" to take after her.

"After this victory, we will soon see the emergence of Chung Hyeon kids," Lee said.

No Asian male player has yet to achieve a Grand Slam title, although Nishikori came close at the 2014 U.S. Open, losing in the final to Croatia's Marin Cilic. Many Koreans are hoping Chung will be the first Korean to achieve this honor. Chung was the runner-up in the boy's division at Wimbledon in 2013.

There is not much excitement in Korea's sports scene after the retirement of Kim and the downfall of sports heroes like swimmer Park Tae-hwan. Chung is well positioned to be the next Korean sports hero. If he continues to do well on the ATP tour, it will surely spark more interest among Koreans in his sport.