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Wu on a Swiss roll as clay-court confidence grows

By SUN XIAOCHEN | China Daily | Updated: 2023-05-25 10:01
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Wu Yibing [Photo/Agencies]

With his confidence and ATP ranking continuing to soar, China's top men's ace Wu Yibing is finding his feet on clay in time for the French Open after back-to-back wins at a warm-up tournament in Geneva this week.

Looking agile as he slid around the court chasing down returns, yet still maintaining control with his shots, Wu again delivered on his least favorite surface on Tuesday to beat 2018 French Open semifinalist Marco Cecchinato of Italy, 7-6 (5), 6-3, and advance to the quarterfinals of the ATP 250 tournament in Geneva.

Next up for the rising Chinese star is a huge test against Germany's Alexander Zverev, a former world No 2 who is currently ranked No 27.

Tuesday's triumph was Wu's second victory in the Swiss city following his three-set opening win over home favorite Marc-Andrea Huesler on Monday. There were more encouraging signs for Wu on clay when he racked up his first ATP Tour victory on the surface in Rome two weeks ago.

"I think I did a better job of just hanging in there when we were both kind of running out of gas on this surface, being patient during the rallies, looking for chances and taking the shots aggressively at the right time," Wu reflected on the one-and-a-half-hour battle.

"Although I closed it out in two sets, the match took a physical toll on me. I think I still need to serve more consistently on clay," added Wu, who is expected to rise to at least No 53 next week and secure a main-draw spot at the French Open, which starts on Sunday.

Like most of his peers in China, Wu developed his game primarily on hard courts, and until recently has generally not looked comfortable with the long rallies and slower pace of clay, underlined by his back-to-back opening-round exits in Barcelona and Madrid last month.

However, his hard-fought win against three-time Grand Slam semifinalist Richard Gasquet at the ATP Masters 1000 tournament in Rome looks to have been turning point, with Wu seemingly grasping that patience and control can complement his aggressive ground-strokes on clay.

"On clay you have to be ready for an extra shot every time it appears that you have nailed it," Wu said after beating the French veteran in three sets in the Italian capital.

Next up for Wu is the biggest challenge he's ever faced on clay in 2019 Geneva champion Zverev, who needed just 69 minutes to rout American Christopher Eubanks in straight sets on Tuesday.

Two-time ATP Tour Finals champion Zverev arrived in Geneva following runs to the fourth round in Madrid and Rome.

As a powerful hitter with swift footwork, the 26-year-old reigning Olympic champion, who has clinched six of his 19 ATP Tour trophies on clay, is chasing his first title since winning the Tour Finals in 2021.

Wu, however, is showing no fear and is keen to gauge himself against the German.

"He is an excellent player, one of the world's best for sure," said the 23-year-old Hangzhou native. "I always look forward to playing against top players like him to see where I'm at. Hopefully I can deliver my best again after a day's rest."

Tsitsipas coach change

Mark Philippoussis is no longer helping to coach world No 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas, the Australian said, describing it as the end of "a great ride".

Philippoussis joined Tsitsipas's father Apostolos in the coaches' box last year and helped guide the Greek player to the Australian Open final.

Tsitsipas, who was beaten in the final in January by Novak Djokovic, previously hailed the impact of "wise man" Philippoussis.

But the 46-year-old Philippoussis, a former Wimbledon and US Open finalist of Greek heritage, wrote on Instagram that the partnership is over, days before the French Open.

He did not reveal why.

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