- Associated Press - Friday, January 26, 2018

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) - Hyeon Chung may have limped out of this year’s Australian Open, but his upbeat mood made clear he firmly believes he’ll be a contender at another major very soon.

Chung had a devastating end to his unexpected run at Melbourne Park, forced to retire from his semifinal against Roger Federer on Friday night with blisters on his feet that were so painful, he said afterward he could no longer walk.

But the 21-year-old Chung is already looking at the big picture and just how impressive his achievement in Melbourne has been. He upset No. 4-seed Alexander Zverev and six-time champion Novak Djokovic en route to becoming the first Korean tennis player, male or female, to reach the semifinals of a major.

Now, less than a month into the new year, he’s going to have to re-evaluate his goals.

“I think I already make few goals, because in Korea, like, I make highest ranking in Korea, highest result in Grand Slam,” he said. “I made two goals.

“Next goal is I want to finish the season without injury. I have to (have) a good recovery.”

To put in perspective how fast his rise has been, at this time last year, Chung was ranked outside the top 100 and barely made the cut-off for the main draw at the Australian Open.

He was also the youngest man to reach a Grand Slam semifinal since Marin Cilic at the Australian Open in 2010, and he was aiming to be the youngest major finalist since Juan Martin del Potro won the title at the 2009 U.S. Open.

“I think (I have) a lot of confidence,” he said. “I played lots of good players in last two weeks. I can play, like, more comfortable on the court with the great players like Roger. I think I can play better next time.”

Federer also believes Chung’s future is bright, though he’s hesitant to make predictions given what he experienced when he rose through the ranks, being labeled a future No. 1 and multiple Grand Slam winner at a young age.

“In a way it’s funny and cool, but it’s not so cool in hindsight,” he said. “Afterward, anything you achieve is normal. I find it disappointing. Getting to No. 1, winning Grand Slams, winning Masters 1000s, it ain’t normal. It’s extraordinary.”

But the 19-time major winner is highly impressed by Chung’s remarkable speed and court coverage, saying he reminds him of his rival, Djokovic. However, he noted that Chung’s game, which features clay-court style sliding on hardcourts, could take a toll.

“The question is with that kind of a game, you just got to take care of your body, also the schedule,” Federer said.

He also believes Chung showed his great mental strength in the way he dealt with his injury in their match.

“Today I’m sure he was having a lot of pain with his feet,” he said. “And you couldn’t tell almost. I like that about the idea of hiding any problems from the opponent. That was very impressive, to be honest.”

Chung’s ranking is set to rise into the top 30 next week, just a couple spots below another of his idols, Kei Nishikori of Japan, a former U.S. Open finalist. If Chung continues on this path, he could soon be Asia’s top-ranked player, another milestone in his young career.

“I enjoyed two weeks so far, on court and off court,” he said. “I’m just really happy.”

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