Chinese star continues to soar with impressive victory at Indian Wells
Making history with each step as he climbs the ranks, Wu Yibing is living the dream as he takes Chinese men's tennis into uncharted territory.
Hot on the heels of his maiden ATP Tour-level win in Dallas last month, Wu showed no sign of slowing down on his amazing run this season as he beat Spain's Jaume Munar, 6-7 (6), 6-0, 7-6 (3), on Wednesday to open his main-draw debut at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells with a bang.
The triumph in California was Wu's first main-draw victory at an overseas ATP Masters 1000 tournament and the first win by a Chinese man at that level on foreign soil. He won at the Shanghai Masters in 2018.
Before Wu's win on Wednesday, Chinese men had won six ATP 1000-level matches — but all at the Shanghai Masters, which is expected to return to the international calendar in October after a three-year pandemic-enforced hiatus.
As China's highest-ranked man in the world at No 67, Wu will next challenge another Spaniard, the 28th-ranked Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, in the second round on Friday, with the winner expected to face world No 15 Karen Khachanov in the round of 16.
Wednesday's victory extended Wu's win streak on tour to seven matches. The 23-year-old stunned favorites including world No 5 Taylor Fritz and big-serving veteran John Isner en route to winning his first ATP singles trophy at a 250-level tournament in Dallas, Texas on Feb 12.
Now free of injury and hungry for more glory, Wu said he's probably playing the best tennis of his career, bolstered by growing confidence and better conditioning.
"Even though I lost the first set, I still have the confidence that I'm gonna come back, which I did in the second set. And that definitely gave me more confidence for the third set," Wu said of the three-set thriller, which lasted two hours and 39 minutes.
In a fitting finale to the drama, Wu went all in on a delicate drop shot at match point in the third-set tiebreak, drawing Nunar to the net to flick the ball back crosscourt. However, Wu read the play, diving to hit a sensational winning volley.
Munar argued fiercely that Wu's winner should have been ruled out after the Chinese lost grip of his racket and it hit the net. However, the racket-to-net contact occurred after the ball had bounced twice on Munar's side of the court, so French umpire Aurelie Tourte correctly upheld the call.
Wu is no stranger to the spotlight having won the 2017 US Open boys' title, however he admits his recent resurgence has taken him "a little bit by surprise".
"I know my ranking is rocketing which is good for me," said Wu, who came back from a three-year injury-enforced break and returned to the ATP Tour last March when he was ranked beneath No 1,800.
"But when I really got hurt and I had to pull out of all the tournaments, there were some moments I thought, 'OK, it's gonna be very tough for me to continue.' But I am a really positive guy. I always look on the positive side.
"Now I have new goals to achieve and have new challenges to face. I think this is the best time of my life and definitely I will work hard to savor these moments, to realize my goals and make the dream come true."
Meanwhile, China's second-highest ranked man Zhang Zhizhen (No 93) hopes to join Wu in round two at Indian Wells by getting past Alexei Popyrin of Australia.
Zhang outlasted his teenage compatriot Shang Juncheng in three sets in the final qualifying round on Monday to secure his first main-draw appearance at Indian Wells.
To the excitement of Chinese fans, the trio of Wu, Zhang and Shang are making a surge on the ATP tour this year with a series of breakthroughs, realizing a decades-long dream of Chinese men's tennis to emulate the success of their female compatriots.
"It's a great moment for us," Wu said. "It's actually great for three young Chinese male players playing at this huge Masters event together. Hopefully we will see this more often in the same tournament."
Earlier on Wednesday in the women's draw, China's Wang Xiyu and Wang Xinyu both opened their campaigns at the WTA 1000 tournament with respective victories over Olga Danilovic (4-6, 6-2, 6-3) and Elise Mertens (6-3, 6-1) to reach the second round.