Five Years After his Boys’ Singles Title, Yibing Wu is Back in New York With Big Goals

Yibing Wu US Open

During the 2017 US Open, Yibing Wu achieved something incredible. He won both the boys’ singles and boys’ doubles titles (the latter with Yu-hsiou Hsu) and became the first Chinese leader of the ITF Junior Rankings. What’s more, right after he took the two trophies in New York, he came back home and clinched his maiden Challenger title in Shanghai, defeating Yen-Hsun Lu in the final via retirement. This huge winning streak took him merely 14 days.

Yibing Wu at the US Open

Three-year-long break

As China has never had a male Top 100 player, the expectations on Wu after that incredible feat were enormous. But his body wasn’t ready for the strain that a professional career at the highest level carries with it. The Chinese would keep experiencing injury issues before eventually taking a hiatus in March 2019 that ended up lasting almost three years. His career-high ranking back then stood at 298, quite low for someone who was touted as a future prospect and who already had a Challenger title under his belt.

The pandemic and all the travel issues that emerged from it only delayed Wu’s comeback to the circuit. Professional events in East Asia were no longer organized, rendering many players unable to compete. From time to time, we’d only hear about Wu winning some national exhibition events, so at least for a while during his hiatus, the Chinese was healthy and ready to play.

Coming back stronger than ever despite more physical setbacks

The 22-year-old was back on tour at the end of January this year, trying to qualify for a 15K ITF in Cancun. After winning four matches, he suffered yet another setback when he was forced to retire at 5-5 in the opening set against Gage Brymer in round two of the main draw. That took him out of the game for over two months. Mid-April, Wu still had just one ATP point next to his name in the rankings.

But only four months later, the Chinese finds himself firmly in the top 200 and has just advanced to the second round of the US Open. He owns an incredible 34-4 win/loss record for the year and has already added 300 points to his resume (and at least another 70 he’s earned in New York). The 22-year-old won his last three Challenger events, including back-to-back titles at Rome and Indianapolis (he saved six match points against Aleksandar Kovacevic in the final of the latter).

His body is still fragile, which is best demonstrated by the fact that of the four losses he’s had this year, three came via retirement. Two weren’t even in a losing position – the aforementioned match with Brymer had them tied at 5-5, against Sho Shimabukuro he led 6-1 5-5! Wu knows that he needs to schedule himself lightly, which is why he took a long break after winning in Indianapolis. 30 days had passed when the Chinese was back on the court for the US Open qualifying, the first Grand Slam of his career.

Can he go deep at the US Open?

No one had a tougher draw than him last week in qualifying–the 22-year-old had to come through a blockbuster against Ricardas Berankis in Round 1, take out Stefano Travaglia in his second match, and beat Corentin Moutet in the final encounter (the Frenchman made his way in as a lucky loser and has already progressed a round too).

But the draw gods were kind enough to help him out in the main draw – Wu got to play Nikoloz Basilashvili, who’s been looking mentally lost on the court recently after facing domestic violence charges and match-fixing allegations. Expectedly, it was an easy win for the Chinese who only had to spend a total of 94 minutes on the court. In the second round, he’s facing Nuno Borges and could potentially take on the World No. 1, Daniil Medvedev, in Round 3.

Wu is considered the favorite to eliminate Borges as he’s got a very well-balanced baseline game. Throwing pace at him often doesn’t cut it as he can absorb and redirect it with ease. He’s brilliant on return and has excellent hand skills. Especially in quicker hard court conditions like in New York, he’s capable of using the surface’s natural pop to make his groundstrokes more damaging as well. The talent is there, although he’s yet to test himself against the highest quality of opposition. The win over Basilashvili was the only time he’s ever beaten a top 50 player (three losses came back in 2017/18).

Will he be the first Chinese male in the top 100?

By winning a match at a Grand Slam, Wu became the first Chinese player to achieve that feat since Mei Fu Chi at Wimbledon 1959. As previously mentioned, no males from his country have ever been in the top 100. Because of his break, the 22-year-old only defends one ATP point until the end of April 2023, so barring another injury setback, he’s got a fantastic chance to secure it until then. To be the first Chinese player in the world’s best hundred, he might have to hurry up though.

Zhizhen Zhang is not defending any points in the latter half of the season either, finishing his 2021 campaign after Hamburg. The 25-year-old is currently the highest-ranked Chinese player ever (136) and in the Live Rankings, he’s got a 65-point edge over Wu. Zhang has been doing amazing in recent months too, reaching four Challenger finals and winning one of them. He also qualified for the US Open, but suffered a surprising exit at the hands of Tim van Rijthoven in round one, missing seven match points in the third set to let the Dutchman claw his way back into the match.

Since Wu’s junior days, China has also had another World No. 1 in the under-18 rankings, Juncheng Shang. At the age of 17, Shang finds himself at the 202nd spot in the ATP Rankings and has just claimed his first Challenger title in Lexington. He’s not as mature as his older compatriots yet and it will probably take him a while longer to get close to the Top 100. Wu could break it at the US Open already, but it would require three more wins and a quarterfinal appearance.

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