Chung breaks through
A star was born on Monday night at the Australian Open as South Korea’s Hyeon Chung stunned Novak Djokovic 7-6(4), 7-5, 7-6(3).
And how did he do it? By giving a faultless impersonation of the six-time champion, blending absurd court coverage, wall-like defence, penetrating groundstrokes, elastic movement and nerves of steel into one unstoppable package.
Even his defensive splits were identical.
“When I was young I just tried to copy Djokovic,” admitted the 21-year-old after the match. “He’s my idol.”
Indeed, Chung looked more like Djokovic than Djokovic himself, who, we should remember, hadn’t played a match for six months prior to the start of the tournament.
After strong performances in the earlier rounds, that absence appeared to take its toll here, with Djokovic’s injury problems resurfacing after the first set.
But nothing can be taken away from Chung, who delivered the performance of his life in a manner that suggested he has only just begun.
Racing into a 4-0 lead in the opener, Chung was pegged back to 5-5 by Djokovic, broken when attempting to serve the set out.
But in what would prove to be a recurring theme during the contest, Chung dealt with that setback nervelessly, taking Djokovic to a tie-break.
There, he was by far the stronger player, bludgeoning his backhand as the Serbian leaked a few crucial errors.
Riding a tidal wave of confidence, Chung established a 3-0 lead in the second set, having fended off four break points in his opening service game. Djokovic, though, fought in the way that only he can, once again reeling his opponent back in for 5-5.
Same scoreline as the first set, same outcome. Chung once again composed himself, and this time broke at 6-5 for a two sets to love lead.
Djokovic had only ever recovered from that deficit four times previously, and battled admirably, hoping to extend the match into territories Chung had rarely been.
But it gradually dawned on Djokovic and the Rod Laver Arena crowd that Chung just wasn’t going away. Wasn’t tightening up. Wasn’t relenting.
The pair arrived at another tie-break, and the Korean’s level went stratospheric, most notably when he flashed a stunning forehand pass beyond the onrushing Djokovic.
On match point, Djokovic pulled a backhand wide, sealing Chung’s place in the history books as the first Korean man or woman to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final.
"I can't believe this. Dreams come true tonight," said Chung after his stunning triumph.
Djokovic was full of praise for his victorious opponent as well.
"Amazing performance," said the Serbian. "He was a better player on the court tonight. He deserved to win, no question about it.
"Whenever he was in trouble, he came up with some unbelievable shots, passing shots. Just from the back of the court, you know, he was like a wall.
"I wanted to, you know, challenge him to earn it without me handing it to him. That's what he has done, so... Well done."
Tennys wins again
On a normal night, Tennys Sandgren’s 6-2, 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-7(7), 6-3 triumph over Dominic Thiem would have been the headline news.
As it is, his triumph had to play second billing to Chung’s - but it was no less impressive.
With only two tour-level wins to his name prior to the tournament - one of which was by retirement - Sandgren has recorded his first, second, third and fourth Grand Slam match wins within a week.
Outlasting No.5 seed Thiem over five attritional sets, the Austrian looked to have momentum on his side after forcing a decider, particularly having saved a match point at 6-5 down in the fourth set tie-break with a scintillating backhand down the line.
But Sandgren made a mockery of his ranking - 97th in the world - by playing inspired tennis in the fifth set to continue his giant-killing run.
“I didn’t think I’d see you guys again,” quipped the American as he began his post-match press conference.
“This one was about as hard-fought as I've ever had a match before. My biggest match, as well, pretty neat.
“I definitely had a real pinch-me moment. Wow, this is hopefully real, you know. If I wake up now, I'm going to be real upset.”
Next up for Sandgren is Chung, in what is surely the most unlikely Grand Slam quarter-final lineup in recent years.