South Korean tennis sensation Chung Hyeon returned home to a hero's welcome Sunday after his historic run at the Australian Open.
Chung was greeted by hundreds of cheering fans at Incheon International Airport. The 21-year-old said he was surprised to see massive crowds.
"I didn't know this many people would come," he said with a smile. "It looks like I really did something great."
Chung, currently 58th in the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) rankings, defeated top-class tennis players to reach the semifinals of the Australian Open, becoming the first South Korean ever to reach the last four in a Grand Slam event.
He withdrew from the semifinal against tennis legend Roger Federer due to blisters on his foot. His earlier opponents included six-time Australian Open winner Novak Djokovic and world No. 4 Alexander Zverev.
"Before the tournament, I had a thought that I could do something big and I didn't know that day will come this fast," he said. "I hope South Korean tennis and many people can have confidence that they can also do it."
In Chung's semi-final match against Federer, who later claimed his 20th Grand Slam title with a victory over Marin Cilic, Chung was down 6-1, 5-2 before he decided to withdraw due to his injured foot. Chung said he learned a lot from the 36-year-old Swiss great.
"I would not have guaranteed my victory against a great player like Federer, even if I was in good physical condition," he said. "Federer was really smooth and it looks like he doesn't get tired easily."
Chung became the lowest-ranked man to make the Australian Open semifinals since Marat Safin 2004. He said he enjoyed every moment at this year's Australian Open.
"I can't just pick one special moment," he said. "My first Grand Slam semifinals, beating Djokovic after two years ... I was happy in every moment."
In South Korea, Chung will focus on receiving treatments on his injured foot. Chung will later decide whether he should compete at an ATP Tour event in Bulgaria next month.
"I think I have to go to the hospital tomorrow right away," he said. "I'm going to set my future scheduled after my medical checkup."
With his latest achievement, Chung is certain to crack the top 30 of the ATP rankings and become highest ranked South Korean tennis player. Retired men's singles player Lee Hyung-taik achieved the highest-ranking by a South Korean player, No. 36, which he did in August 2007.
Chung, however, said he is looking further.
"I want to set my sights on the top 10 in the world rankings," he said. "I will aim high and move forward. I want to prove it."
When asked about comparison with South Korea's national sports heroes, like footballer Park Ji-sung and baseball pitcher Park Chan-ho, Chung said he'll consider them role models and try to follow them. Chung asked for more fan support for tennis.
"Tennis isn't really a popular sport here, but I want to make it popular," he said. "I played with a lot of attention and support. I hope it continues."
Kim Su-a firstname.lastname@example.org
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