Pressure? Hyeon Chung Knows More About Pressure Than Most
Before Milan, where Hyeon Chung won the inaugural Next Gen ATP Finals last November, and before Melbourne, where the South Korean reached his maiden Grand Slam semi-final in January, Chung showed his tour-leading clutch tennis in Incheon, South Korea.
At the 2014 Asian Games, Chung and countryman Yong-kyu Lim faced four match points in the doubles semi-finals, and much was on the line for the pairing.
Lose and they, like all South Korean males, would still be subject to almost two years of mandatory military service. But win the gold medal, and they'd be exempt.
“For Asians it's really big tournament... especially for Koreans because Koreans have to go to the Army. It's a big thing,” Chung told ATPWorldTour.com.
He and Lim came back from 4/6 in the second set tie-break and 7/9 in the Match Tie-break to reach the final, Chung said. As fans cheered after every point and sometimes even shouted and exhaled after every shot, the South Koreans won the country's first tennis gold medal in 28 years.
Watch: A Different Ball Game: Chung Meets Atlanta Football Star At Atlanta
“I think the Asian Games started [it for me],” said Chung, who was 18 at the time and eventually served only four weeks in the military. “Because when I'm in the Asian Games, I'm really happy and I had many good, positive things so that I can win Next Gen last year, I can make Grand Slam semis.”
No one has played sweaty-palm situations better than Chung during his big runs and during the past 52 weeks, according to his “Under Pressure” rating on the Infosys ATP Stats LEADERBOARDS. The statistic is based on break points converted, break points saved, tie-breaks won and deciding sets won, and Chung's 247.6 rating is almost a point better than Juan Martin del Potro's (third, 246.7) and more than two points better than Roger Federer's (fifth, 245.5).
“He is able in the big moments to knuckle down and not think too much about what the end result is, and he's able to execute really well in the big moments, which is a skill in itself, and I think that's why the results show in the stats,” Neville Godwin, his coach, told ATPWorldTour.com.
Watch Chung's My Story
Chung will look to use those skills for the first time in more than two months as he returns this week at the BB&T Atlanta Open. A right ankle injury that took longer than expected to rehab has kept him out of play since 8 May when he lost in the first round of the Mutua Madrid Open.
Before Madrid, Chung had made at least the quarter-finals at seven of his eight tournaments and was in sixth place in the ATP Race To London.
But, after missing 11 weeks, he has fallen to the 17th spot in the Race and trails eighth-placed Kevin Anderson by 1,440 points.
“Obviously I would have liked him to play on the clay, and definitely on the grass as well because he was having such a great run and obviously in contention to go to London... It could be a bridge too far now,” Godwin said.
“The goal for the rest of the year is to really just stay healthy and keep building on the things that we started working on at the beginning of the year.”
Chung played in Atlanta last year for the first time, falling to #NextGenATP American Tommy Paul in three sets. Hard courts have been Chung's best surface on tour. The 6'2” right-hander has won almost 60 per cent of his matches on hard courts (53-36), compared to 58 per cent of his matches overall (71-52), according to his FedEx ATP Win/Loss Record.
“I'm just trying to move the legs, and I'm just trying to play my best. Breathe... Stay calm. Trying to think about positive things,” Chung said of playing under pressure.
Not everyone, however, has been so enamored with Chung's clutch play. Indian Divij Sharan and his partner Yuki Bhambri lost the four match points against Chung/Lim at the Asian Games. Had Sharan/Bhambri reached the final, they would have faced another Indian team, guaranteeing their home nation a gold medal in tennis.
Sharan, who, with Kiwi Artem Sitak, is the top doubles seed in Atlanta, has seen video clips of the match. But he struggles to describe how a shot at gold slipped away from them.
“That was obviously a really, really close match,” Sharan told ATPWorldTour.com, “and I guess looking back, I just think, that was a tough one, just a match they had to win. It was just crazy.”