Chung returned home after winning the inaugural Next Generation ATP Finals in Milan, Italy, on Saturday. In the season-ending event for players 21 or younger, Chung, then ranked No. 54, defeated 37th-ranked Andrey Rublev of Russia in the final.
There were no ranking points in the event, and Chung actually dropped to No. 59 in the latest rankings. But he still won $390,000 and earned a whole lot of respect and praise that come with being an ATP winner.
|South Korean tennis player Chung Hyeon waves to the crowd at Incheon International Airport on Nov. 13, 2017, after arriving home from Milan, Italy, where he won the Next Generation ATP Finals. (Yonhap)|
The last South Korean to win an ATP Tour singles title was Lee Hyung-taik in January 2003.
"Everyone on the tour works hard all year to enjoy a moment like that," Chung, 21, told reporters at Incheon International Airport, when asked about clinching the victory in Italy. "Even though this was a tournament for young guns, I still went up against some competitive ATP players and this was a great learning experience for me."
The top eight players in the Emirates ATP Race to Milan qualified for the Next Generation ATP Finals, and Chung was only the seventh seed. He moved up a spot when the top-seed Alexander Zverev withdrew to play the ATP World Tour Finals the week after the Next Generation ATP Finals.
Even without the victory, Chung still had a strong season. He reached a career-high position of No. 44 in the ATP rankings in September, and reached the third round of the French Open, the deepest he's gone at a Grand Slam event.
In May, Chung defeated Gael Monfils in the second round of the BMW Open in Munich, Germany, on clay. Monfils, a strong clay court player, was No. 16 at the time, the highest-ranked player Chung had defeated in his career.
Chung also faced Rafael Nadal twice this year, earning praise from the Spanish star for his speed.
Chung said the win over Monfils, which helped lift the South Korea to the first ATP semifinals, stands out the most among a series of victories this year, but said he still has long ways to go.
"I haven't set specific goals for myself next year, but first and foremost, I'd like to stay healthy and play a full season," said Chung, who sat out a few weeks this year with an ankle injury. "And I have to get better in all aspects of the game. My serves have to be sharper, and I must grow stronger mentally and physically."
Since his teen years, Chung has been considered the biggest hope in South Korean tennis since Lee, who remains the only South Korean to reach the fourth round at a Grand Slam event. Lee still owns the highest ATP ranking position by a South Korean player at No. 36, reached in August 2007.
Chung said he feels like he's getting closer to records held by Lee.
"I think I will eventually break his marks," Chung said. "I just want to be a better player next year than I was this year." (Yonhap)