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Ambitious Chung Hyeon challenges Nishikori

Posted June. 03, 2017 07:07,   

Updated June. 03, 2017 07:15

Statistics show he is still behind his next opponent. Nevertheless, this does not mean that he should lose confidence, especially when he has nothing to lose. This would be the mantra for 21-year-old Korean tennis player Chung Hyeon (ranked 67th), who will stage a match with 28-year-old Japanese Kei Nishikori (9th) at the third round of the men's single during the 2017 French Open. The match will invite for the first time both the players, as well as Korea and Japan in a grand slam.

To Japan, Nishikori is a "byproduct" of the Japanese tennis scene, carefully trained and backed by national support. Since his elementary years, he brought his custom-made racket exclusively designed and tailored by a racket craftsman to fit his body. It was a "luxury" he could enjoy, thanks to the sponsorship provided by Sony. Still, Nishikori was up to those high expectations. In 2015, he was ranked as the world's fourth and became the highest ranking Asian player, and also grabbed a bronze medal at the men's singles during the Rio Olympics last year.

However, as the Korean player still seven years younger than his Japanese counterpart, Chung should not feel small already. Seven years ago in the third week of June 2010, Nishikori stood at a mere 246th. Until then, the highest rank of the Japanese player (56th as of February 2009) was also five steps lower than Chung (51st).

Still, Nishikori was never shy at "big matches" back then as well. He claimed his first major victory at the 2008 Association of Professional Tennis (APT) Tour, and listed his name on the last 16 by beating the then-world's fourth David Ferrer (35-year-old) by 3-2 at the U.S. Open in the same year. Meanwhile, Chung never met a top-10 player on the court, and is new to the last 32 at a major competition.

Therefore, the final score of the upcoming showdown will depend on whether Chung can lessen the burden and unleash his potentials. "I've always wanted to play with Nishikori. I am a bit nervous, but also excited with high hopes," Chung said. "I think I will be able to play well if I do not lose focus throughout the game."

Kyu-In Hwang kini@donga.com