Profile | Hyeon Chung
This Suwon superstar looks set to be South Korea's finest ever player
By Stephen Higgins | 4 February 2016
Novak Djokovic captured his sixth Australian Open in January 2016, vanquishing familiar adversaries Roger Federer and Andy Murray in the semis and final respectively.
While those matches were decisive in the Serb's title defence, his opening bout on Rod Laver Arena was intriguing in its own right.
Hyeon Chung, a bespectacled and very talented 19-year-old from South Korea, impressed onlookers with his ability to trade groundstrokes with the greatest slugger on the tour.
Named the ATP's Most Improved Player of 2015 after an extraordinary 120-place leap in the rankings, Chung is now charging towards the game's top table.
So how did it all start for this Suwon superstar?
Following Doctor's Orders
Hyeon Chung was born in the city of Suwon, 30 km south of Seoul, on May 19, 1996.
His father, Chung Seok-jin, and brother Hong were avid tennis players and this rubbed off on young Hyeon. He took up a racquet at six, and in an interview with Leigh Walsh, Chung revealed that he and his brother setup a mini-court outside their house to practice on.
According to the tale, young Hyeon kept at the tennis because a doctor felt that watching the colour green for extended periods might improve the youngster's poor eyesight. Hence the signature playing glasses. The South Korean owes much to that doctor as he soon developed into an excellent junior.
In 2008, Chung won two of junior tennis' most revered events; the Orange Bowl U-12s and Eddie Herr International. The IMG Academy were so impressed with him (and his brother) that they signed the pair to a contract in March 2009. During summers, he started to hone his game at Nick Bolletieri's complex in Bradenton, Florida.
While still competing on the junior circuit, Hyeon entered his first Futures events in 2012. The then 17-year-old broke through in both formats the following season, winning his first senior event at the Korea F6 and reaching the final of Junior Wimbledon.
At SW19, Chung defeated Borna Coric and Nick Kyrgios on his way to the final. Italian Gianluigi Quinzi got the better of him in the end, but the South Korean had certainly made his mark on the grass courts. He eventually finished his junior career with a combined ranking of 7.
Mixing With The Pros
While some players can roam the Futures tour for years before catching fire, if they ever do, Chung was red hot and in a hurry. After his first title at the Korea F6, three more Futures events followed at Thailand F1 & F3 and Korea F3.
He shot up the rankings in 2014, claiming his first Challenger title in Bangkok that August. Also that year, Chung and his partner Lim Yong-kyu lifted the Asian Games doubles trophy for their country. That victory was significant for the emerging talent, as it made him exempt from South Korea's mandatory two-year military service.
Having started 2014 ranked outside the top 500, Suwon's shining light jumped almost 400 places to 173 by that December.
Whatever promise Chung had shown on the Futures and Challenger circuit, nobody was prepared for how well he took to the ATP merry-go-round in 2015.
Chung started the year inauspiciously. His first match was a loss to Ryan Harrison in the first round of the City of Onkaparinga Challenger in Australia. Little did anyone know at the time, but the South Korean's last match of the year would come at the Shanghai Masters 1000.
In February, a first Challenger title of the year was won at Burnie, Australia. Then came Chung's first top 50 win, against Marcel Grannollers in Miami. Back-to-back Challenger wins followed in April at Savannah, Georgia - where he beat James McGee in the final - and at home in Busan. Yet another Challenger trophy was added to the cabinet that September, the OEC Kaohsiung in Chinese Taipei.
The right-hander was named the ATP's Most Improved player of 2015 after four Challenger victories, a couple of top 50 wins (Granollers and Benoit Paire) and a year-end ranking of 51. An extraordinary 12 months whatever way you look at it.
Let's start with the serve. It's an unusual motion that's too abbreviated. Chung has been criticised for not getting enough from his serve given his height (6' 1"). I'd agree with that and the facts back up this assertion. In 2015, the South Korean produced 77 aces over the season - a long way short of the game's top 50 players.
From a shot that needs improving to one that doesn't - the backhand. Chung has a lovely two-hander that he can rely upon and hit hard and deep. The fact that he could trade backhands with Djokovic for extended periods in Melbourne speaks volumes.
His forehand is a little like his serve in that the motion looks peculiar. It actually reminds me of Bernard Tomic's swing. Chung seems to momentarily pause before impact, and then flip his wrist at the last moment. Whatever way it looks, he has no problem generating power.
As you would expect from his generation, Chung moves well around the court and possesses great balance.
Finally, a more aggressive mindset is likely to be required to really challenge the game's best.