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Wu back in the swing after injury woes

By SUN XIAOCHEN | China Daily | Updated: 2024-04-02 09:22
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Wu Yibing. [Photo/Xinhua]

After hobbling around on crutches for over a month during a long injury layoff, China's first ATP titlist Wu Yibing has hit the ground running in his return to the men's pro circuit.

His shots looked as sharp as ever and his movement on clay seemed even better. Wu's two straight qualifier wins at the ATP 250 Houston championships helped him quickly shake off the rust from a half-year break since he underwent surgery in October to treat an old injury on his left foot following his elimination from the 2023 Asian Games.

Now that he's healthy and fresh again, the former world No 54 is targeting a return to the top echelons of the men's game.

"I really enjoyed playing with a healthy body again," Wu said after defeating Kazakhstan's Denis Yevseyev in straight sets in a qualifier on Sunday to secure a main-draw appearance at the entry-level ATP tournament in Texas.

"Hopefully, I can keep playing while staying healthy. I expect to have a better clay swing this season than last year, because I specifically tuned up for this surface during my recovery.

"I am looking forward to working my way back to the top tournaments, where I feel I belong, through solid performances at the lower-level events."

Playing on his least-favorite surface against an unfamiliar foe, Wu stayed aggressive on both serves, winning 67 percent and 70 percent on his first and second serves respectively to break Yevseyev four times. He also displayed impressive mobility as he defended the baseline to prevail 7-6 (3), 6-3 in one hour and 34 minutes.

Touted for greatness in his teenage years, Wu, however, is no stranger to setbacks in his young career. After winning the 2017 US Open boys' title, his ascent was interrupted by multiple injuries, leaving fans wondering what might have been had the 24-year-old been healthy all the way.

Wu, who became the first Chinese man to win an ATP singles title at last year's Dallas Open, said he would rather keep his expectations in check than set overly ambitious goals.

"I've had a change of mindset because of all the injuries. To be able to compete again after being out for six months, I am just so happy I could make it back," said Wu, who has experienced issues with his elbow, lower back, shoulder and wrist since his breakout junior season in 2017.

"Technically, I am happy that I delivered my level in training. I am not expecting too much at the moment because physically I am still playing with caution while seeing how my body reacts."

Wu will face Australia's world No 33 Jordan Thompson, who won his first career ATP title in Mexico last month, in the round of 32 on Tuesday.

Now coached by high-profile duo Marcos Baghdatis and Wayne Ferreira, Wu attributed the trust and support from his team to his resilient comeback and expects to learn from the experienced former pros to become a more complete player on all surfaces.

"I am so grateful that Wayne could help me out during the North American swing, while Marcos takes over once I am in Europe," said Wu, who was bedridden for three weeks and had to walk on crutches for a month and a half in the immediate aftermath of his surgery.

"We will work on improving my weaknesses such as my serve and unforced errors on my forehand."

Ferreira, a former world No 6 of South Africa, joined Cypriot Baghdatis, a four-time ATP singles champion, on Wu's coaching team at the end of last year, reflecting their shared confidence and commitment in helping the Chinese talent realize his full potential.

"I really appreciate that my team has been sticking by me throughout the whole process. I am deeply touched and motivated to come back strong," said Wu.

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