Rising Stars: Yibing Wu - the first real deal from China?

Tennis - This promising youngster born in 1999 became the first junior Grand Slam champion from China

by Jovica Ilic
Rising Stars: Yibing Wu - the first real deal from China?

17 years ago, at the end of 2000, China had 4 ranked players on ATP rankings list, and it is safe to say that tennis virtually didn't exist in the world's most crowded country at the turn of millenniums. Everything changed in the meanwhile, China became the regular stop for top players in the closing stages of the season, and it also had a chance to host the Masters Cup between 2005-08, just 5 years after that mention 2000 when we almost couldn't find a Chinese player with ranking points. At the end of 2016, there were 3 players from China ranked inside the Top 300 and they had over 30 ranked players, with a tendency to have even more in the years to come.

They did the right things in the past 15 years or so, opening tennis academies and bringing quality coaches that could pass their knowledge and lay the fundaments for the development of this world-wide growing sport. In addition, Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu, Shenzhen, Wuhan and many other cities got modern tennis complexes and it was only about time when we will see a tennis star from China. Li Na was the first who break the spell, reaching the second place on the WTA rankings list and winning 2 Grand Slam titles, sending thousands of the kids to the tennis court and making tennis one of the most popular sports in the entire country.

While the girls have already made a name for themselves on the WTA Tour, we are still waiting for a male player from China to make an impact and reach the Top 100. In the last couple of seasons, Di Wu was their biggest hope, becoming the first Chinese player with a Challenger title at the beginning of the last year at Maui.

Wu won almost 100 Challenger matches but he won just 2 on the ATP Tour, at Chengdu and Shanghai last year. Still, there is a player who could change all that already in 2018, with a nice shot of cracking the Top 100 if he continues to develop his game.

His name is Yibing Wu, he comes from Hangzhou and he will turn 18 in October! Yibing is currently the best junior in the world, after claiming the first Grand Slam title for his country at the US Open (he won doubles as well), and he is also 321st on the ATP rankings list after his first Challenger title in Shanghai, in the week after the US Open! Yibing started his junior career on the ITF circuit in 2014 and a few months later he won his first Grade 5 title at China Junior 10 event in Jingshan, still at the age of 14.

In the spring of 2015, he had a chance to travel to Paris and London, competing at the Roland Garros and Wimbledon and gathering some experience against the players from all over the world. At the end of that season, we saw him in the UNited States, battling for big junior crowns at Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl, where he lost to Felix Auger-Aliassime and Alex De Minaur respectively.

In 2016, Yibing won 5 ITF junior crowns, all in Asia, and he reached the final of the Orange Bowl, losing to Miomir Kecmanovic in the title match. Usually, players who are turning 18 in the specific season are not playing junior events anymore, but Wu decided to stay there in 2017 as well (only for the big tournaments, though), and he reached the semi-final at the Australian Open and the quarter-final at Wimbledon.

He came to the US Open as the second seed and he went all the way, claiming the first junior Grand Slam title for China and conquering doubles crown as well, to most probably end his junior career on a high note. Yibing made his professional debut back in 2015 at China F4 Futures, still at the age of 15 and his first win came a year later in Anning, at China F2 Futures.

In July, he was back in Anning to reach his first quarter-final, and we saw him at Qingdao Challenger 2 weeks later, losing to Janko Tipsarevic in the opening round. 2 months later Wu notched first Challenger win at Ningbo and he had a chance to make a Davis Cup debut at the beginning of 2017, ousting Jason Jung in 5 sets.

China F3 Futures in Anning was successful for him, winning his first pro title at the age of 17, and he was ready to prove himself on the higher level as well in the last couple of months. Competing in only his 4th Challenger in a career, Yibing reached the semi-final in Chengdu, losing to Yen-Hsun Lu, but he will come back even stronger after the US Open! Despite the huge distance and a lot of time zones he switched by flying from New York to Shanghai, Wu was ready to fight for his first Challenger crown, and he did that in style, without losing a set! He scored wins over Peter Polansky, Shuichi Sekiguchi, Hiroki Moriya, and Matthias Bachinger to advance to the title match, where he avenged that Chengdu loss to Yen-Hsun Lu, who was forced to retire after the first set with a shoulder injury.

Thus, Yibing Wu claimed his biggest pro title up to date, becoming the 4th player of the season who lifted Challenger trophy after not turning 18 yet. Also, he is one of the rare players who managed to win both junior Grand Slam title and a Challenger event in the last couple of years, joining the names like Nick Kyrgios, Taylor Fritz, and Alexander Zverev.

Yibing Wu trains in Madrid under Antonio Torres and Garcia Sanchez Nahun, constantly improving his game and preparing himself for his first ATP events in Chengdu (lost in the first round) and Shanghai, where he received a wild card.

17-year-old is already a high-quality baseline player, taller than most of his compatriots, and he plays aggressive tennis with short swings on both wings, taking the ball early and keeping the points on his racquet. Unlike the other Asians, Yibing could use his serve to make a lot of damage and to gain the advantage in the point instantly, like we saw in his opening service game against Bachinger in Shanghai.

He covers the court great and with such a strong groundstrokes it will be really hard to overpower him in the rallies once he improves his overall package, that already looks impressive. In addition, he showed mental strength as well, winning all 5 sets that reached 5-5, including 3 in the semis and the final, which is another big plus for the inexperienced player.

In the modern tennis, the first strike after the serve became one of the key factors for a success and Yibing already mastered this art, reading the point so well and placing the ball in an empty court in no time at all. As we all, know the players from Asia have to work hard to earn almost every point without a good serve, wasting a lot of energy and often struggling physically.

Yibing could be an exception, with a very solid initial shot and potent groundstrokes that seems to take no strength from him at all. It will be very interesting to follow his progress until the end of this season and especially in 2018, but if he manages to improve his serve and return a little bit more and come to the net more often, Wu will have a realistic shot of reaching the Top 100 next season.

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Yibing Wu