Australian Open 2019: South Korea's Hyeon Chung solves five-set puzzle against Bradley Klahn to win first match of the year

In the final analysis, Klahn had 84 unforced errors and 58 winners, while Chung was a lot sounder at 34 winners and 35 unforced errors. Slow and steady, the Korean finally won in three hours and 37 minutes.

Deepti Patwardhan January 15, 2019 21:53:49 IST
Australian Open 2019: South Korea's Hyeon Chung solves five-set puzzle against Bradley Klahn to win first match of the year
  • At the start of the season, in Pune, Hyeon Chung admitted that he had not quite solved the five-set puzzle yet.

  • Chung worked on his fitness in the off-season and had special insoles fitted in his shoes, to avoid foot blisters that had derailed his dream Australian Open campaign.

  • The Korean had played his brand of solid, smart tennis but still found himself two sets down, courtesy of two tie-breaks.

At the start of the season, in Pune, Hyeon Chung admitted that he had not quite solved the five-set puzzle yet.

Australian Open 2019 South Koreas Hyeon Chung solves fiveset puzzle against Bradley Klahn to win first match of the year

At the start of the season, in Pune, Hyeon Chung admitted that he had not quite solved the five-set puzzle yet. AFP

The Korean was thrown straight into the deep end at the Australian Open on a sultry Tuesday afternoon, as he found himself two sets down against Bradley Klahn of America in the opening round.

Having made a surprising and sensational run to the semi-finals last year, Chung faced the prospect of bowing out of the year’s first major without causing a ripple.

But the bespectacled player, who is known as ‘The Professor’ in his country, buckled down to the challenge, solved one problem at a time to emerge a 6-7 (5), 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 winner. With a band of Koreans vigourously cheering him on at Court No 8, Chung crossed the first hurdle with enough drama and panache.

The Korean needed this sort of victory to get back into his groove.

After a stellar start to the season, Chung had been unable to carry on the momentum. He withdrew from the French Open and Wimbledon due to an ankle injury. At his last tournament of 2018, in Stockholm in October, he retired form the quarterfinals against Fabio Fognini at 5-7, 1-2 with a right foot injury.

“Hi everyone, I am officially calling the end of 2018 season. It was a roller coaster ride and sometimes I made you disappointed,” Chung wrote on his twitter account.

For a man whose feet are his biggest weapon on a tennis court, these were testing times.

He worked on his fitness in the off-season and had special insoles fitted in his shoes, to avoid foot blisters that had derailed his dream Australian Open campaign in the semi-finals. Having missed out on the tail end of 2018, the lack of match practice seemed to hurt him in the new season. Chung, who received a bye in the first round, lost 6-7, 2-6 to Ernests Gulbis – after holding a 4-0 lead in the first set— in the second at the season-opener in Pune. The next week in Auckland, he went down 5-7, 3-6 to world No 360 Rubin Statham of New Zealand in his first match.

The odds were stacked high going into the Australian Open – the Slam that made him.

He had arrived in Melbourne knowing he had to defend 720 ranking points, which he had gained for making the last four in 2018. They make a chunk of his total tally of 1585 ATP ranking points and a loss in the first round would have seen him see slip out of the top-50 in the world.

“The five setters are tough,” Chung had said after losing in Pune. “I can go the distance if I am fine physically.”

His physical and mental reserves were put to the test against the aggressive Klahn in the opening round. A product of the US collegiate system, World No 78 Klahn attacked right from the get go.

The left-handed American, aware that he wouldn’t be able to out-rally Chung, mixed up the pace and made several darts to the net.

The Korean had played his brand of solid, smart tennis but still found himself two sets down, courtesy of two tie-breaks. The second of which he conceded with a double fault. If Chung was to survive, he would have to do it the hard way.

A man of very few words, the 22-year-old has a game that speaks eloquently of his hard work and discipline. He runs tirelessly along the baseline and plays with relentless accuracy. Chung started engaging Klahn into longer rallies and started drawing out errors from the 28-year-old American, who is just as unfamiliar with the pressures of a best of five match.

Chung jumped into an early lead in the third and fourth sets, winning them 6-3 and 6-2, to take the match into a decider. He didn’t let the large contingent of noisy Korean tennis fans jump his nerves; Chung played the perfect waiting game. The first nine games of the set went on serve, but it looked like Klahn was running out of patience and options in the end. Four unforced errors from his racquet saw Chung break serve and clinch the set 6-4.

In the final analysis, Klahn had 84 unforced errors and 58 winners, while Chung was a lot sounder at 34 winners and 35 unforced errors. Slow and steady, the Korean finally won in three hours and 37 minutes.

It was a good day in the office for his fellow Next Genners, who now seem bound to each other for life with that tag, as well. World No 4 Alexander Zverev beat Aljaz Bedene 6-4, 6-1, 6-4, eleventh seed Borna Coric halted the returning Steve Darcis 6-1, 6-4, 6-4, lanky Russian Daniil Medvedev defeated Lloyd Harris 6-1, 6-2, 6-1 while the most mercurial of a lot Denis Shapovalov got the better of Pablo Andujar 6-2, 6-3, 7-6.

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