10:17 PM GMT January 24, 2018
The tournaments change, the courts differ but seemingly everywhere Hyeon Chung plays these days, the South Korean always brings his “pokerface”.
Two months after winning the inaugural Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan, Chung secured yet another career breakthrough on Wednesday at the Australian Open. The unseeded 21-year-old dismissed Tennys Sandgren of the U.S. 6-4, 7-6(5), 6-3 to extend his greatest run at a Grand Slam, becoming the lowest-ranked man to make the Australian Open semi-finals since No. 86 Marat Safin in 2004.
Chung is also the first South Korean, man or woman, to play in a Grand Slam semi-final, and he had his country on his mind during the match's final moments.
“[In the] last game many things come together. If I win one more point, I make history in Korea... I had to stay calm because the finish – the match is not finished yet, so I'm just trying to stay calm until [I] finish the match,” Chung said of his thoughts. “I think all the people [in Korea are] watching Australian Open now because we make history in Korea.”
Chung will now play in his first Grand Slam semi-final against second seed and five-time champion Roger Federer. “I'm just going to try to do my best,” Chung said.
The 6'2” Chung, who had never reached past the third round of a Grand Slam (2017 Roland Garros) before this fortnight, joined Brit Kyle Edmund in the semi-finals, marking the first time multiple unseeded players have made the Australian Open semi-finals since Thomas Enqvist, Tommy Haas and Nicolas Lapentti in 1999.
Chung's maiden quarter-final was the first time he had been the higher-ranked player all tournament. Chung had to upset 32nd seed Mischa Zverev, No. 53 Daniil Medvedev, fourth seed Alexander Zverev and 14th seed Novak Djokovic to make the last eight.
“I'm really surprised because I really don't know. I make semis, I beat like Sascha, Novak, the other good players. I [have] never played in the second week in Grand Slam, so I'm really surprised,” Chung said.
But the South Korean fared just as well in his new role as he had as an underdog. Chung was consistent on serve all match against No. 97 Sandgren, who was also playing in his first Grand Slam quarter-final.
South Korea's No. 1 landed 76 per cent of his first serves for the match – in addition to placing it well – and the shot carried him to a one-set lead as he erased both break points in the opener.
Sandgren settled down in the second, matching Chung's powerful groundstrokes from side to side. At 5-3, the American served to even the match, but Chung kept Sandgren on the move with his sliding defence and deep groundstrokes and broke back before the best tennis of the match was played in the tie-break.
But yet again, as it was when Chung faced Djokovic and they battled in two set tie-breaks, the South Korean looked as if he wasn't phased by the moment. Sandgren cracked first, framing a forehand at 5/5 before Chung gained a two-set lead. He clinched his spot in the semi-finals on his sixth match point.
“He's a fantastic player. This is the second time I played him now in two weeks. It's fun. It's such a fun challenge because he does so many cool things with how he moves and how he returns and how he plays with his forehand,” said Sandgren, who also lost to Chung at the ASB Classic in Auckland. “It was kind of like an extremely difficult puzzle to try to figure out. I wasn't able to figure it out, but I enjoyed trying.”
Did You Know?
Chung is ninth in the Infosys ATP Stats Leaderboards Return Category for the past 52 weeks, with a return rating of 153.2. Learn more