Roger Federer, Riding High, Isn’t Underestimating Hyeon Chung

Roger Federer, Riding High, Isn’t Underestimating Hyeon Chung


“Sure, it’s a great one,” Federer said of his season so far. “But you know how it is. You can’t plan for these runs to happen. Either they happen or they don’t. Sometimes you just need a bit of luck to keep the runs going, and this year it’s just been really good, you know, solid matches.“

He added: “We’ll see how long it lasts, really. This might be the last day. So we’ll see. It’s just how it goes. Don’t jinx it.”

The bespectacled Chung had to deal with misfortune of his own making in Australia, developing severe blisters after neglecting to shave down the soles of his feet. He ended up with open sores that required repeated painkilling injections, although those did not prevent him from retiring during the semifinal in Melbourne with Federer leading 6-1, 5-2.

“Seeing the blister after, that wasn’t very nice,” Federer said, looking the slightest bit squeamish. “I can just imagine how much pain there is to it. You kind of want to go out and give it a shot, but then you’re like, I probably shouldn’t. You’re just stuck in a situation which is hard, so I felt for him.”

Chung, a 21-year-old South Korean who is up to 26 in the ATP rankings, returned to action in Delray Beach, Fla., three weeks after the Australian Open, and reached the quarterfinals, just as he did at the Mexican Open in Acapulco this month.

“I was honestly quite surprised how quickly he came back, because that thing looked nasty and it takes some time to heal,” Federer said, referring to the blister. “So I hope he’s O.K. now and didn’t come back too early.”

Hardcourt tennis is particularly tough on players’ feet, and Chung’s brand is tougher than most, as he slides in an open stance into the corners like his stylistic role model, Novak Djokovic.

“He’s got great range on the court,” said Bob Brett, the veteran Australian coach. “I would assume Roger will do things to break up what Chung is normally used to doing, but that doesn’t mean Chung isn’t going to be ready.”

Photo


Hyeon Chung, the rising South Korean star, will face Federer in the quarterfinal in Indian Wells on Thursday.

Credit
Harry How/Getty Images

Djokovic was Chung’s boyhood role model, and Chung would play the part of Djokovic when he and his older brother were pretending to play Grand Slam matches in a parking lot near their home.

At this stage, Federer thinks the parallels with Djokovic are real but limited to aggressive footwork, even if both men changed their service actions in the off-season.

“That’s the only similarity I see,” Federer said of their movement. “It’s not a bad one to have, to be honest, because Novak has maybe the best footwork on hard courts we have ever seen. So it’s just a question for Chung to see that he can maintain that level, with the blister and with injuries over the course of the 10 to 15 years to make sure he stays injury-free and doesn’t get injured three months of the year.”

“But it’s highly explosive; it’s highly impressive what he does, and I think he’s going to be a great player,” he continued. “How good will still remain to be seen.”

The elastic Djokovic is still working his way back from a chronic right elbow problem but has managed to avoid major leg injuries, in part by his daily commitment to stretching: a habit that started nearly as soon as he began playing the game in the Serbian mountain resort of Kopaonik.

“Physicality is obviously a massive part of Hyeon’s game,” said Chung’s coach, Neville Godwin. “It’s definitely something we have to make sure we maintain and keep working on and staying on top of. Twenty-one is still pretty young in the tennis world, and he wants to play 10 or 15 years, so we have make sure physical blocks are put in place. The younger you can put the right protocols in place, the better you’ll be going forward.”

After retiring in Australia, Chung spent 10 days resting at home in Seoul, South Korea, without playing tennis or even doing gym work. He has hired an experienced full-time physical therapist, Alessio Ceccarelli, an Italian who has worked with Francesca Schiavone, Flavia Pennetta, Alexandr Dolgopolov and Elina Svitolina.

“Alessio’s obviously working on the whole body, including the feet, which need to be shaved down every other day with the calluses,” said Stuart Duguid, Chung’s agent.

Chung has also been using a new shoe orthotic, one that was supposed to hold out for several months but which lasted little more than a week under his punishing style.

But he has been running and sliding with abandon in Indian Wells. After beating Tomas Berdych, 6-4, 6-4, in the third round here, Chung needed 10 match points before defeating Pablo Cuevas, 6-1, 6-3, on Wednesday.

He is now in his first quarterfinal in a Masters 1000 event. Federer has won 27 of them and won 97 tour singles titles in total, including his 20th Grand Slam title in Australia. He also reclaimed the top ranking last month, becoming the oldest singles No. 1 in ATP history.

When another enduring 36-year-old, Feliciano Lopez, was asked on Wednesday if another man would ever reach No. 1 at that age, he did not hesitate.

“No,” said Lopez, after losing in the fourth round to Sam Querrey. “There are many things that Roger achieved that won’t happen again.”

For now, Federer’s priority is defeating Chung, one of the game’s rising stars, for the second time in a row.



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