Sports, Tennis

Wu, Zhang and Shang end China’s 86-year French Open wait

Published : 27 May 2023 07:51 PM

Twelve months ago, a despondent Wu Yibing was retiring with injury from a low-level clay court tournament in Italy, earning a meagre 530 euros ($570) for his troubles.

Fast-forward a year and 23-year-old Wu is his country's highest-ranked male player at 59 in the world and about to spearhead a landmark assault at the French Open where an 86-year wait for a Chinese man to play in the main draw finally comes to an end.

Wu will not be alone when the season's second major gets underway on Sunday as Zhang Zhizhen and qualifier Shang Juncheng make it three Chinese men in the tournament, all of them having also made the main draw in Australia in January.

"The excitement in China around the top Chinese male players is palpable now and there is strong media interest linked to the breakthrough of these players on tour," ATP executive vice-president Alison Lee told AFP.

The long forgotten Kho Sin-Khie, the son of an eggplant farmer, and Choy Wai-Chuen, a Cambridge scholar, were the last men to represent China in the French capital way back in 1937.

Long overshadowed by their female counterparts, Wu and Zhang have been racking up an impressive series of 'firsts'.

Wu was the first Chinese man to make the third round of the US Open in 2022 where it took world number one and defending champion Daniil Medvedev to stop him.

He took his new-found celebrity status with good humour.

"I'm a good-looking guy, I guess," he replied when told he was the hottest topic trending on Chinese social media.Earlier this year, Wu became the first Chinese player to win an ATP Tour title in Dallas.