Tung-Lin Wu was not meant to be a tennis player. His grandfather was the principal at an elementary school in Chinese Taipei and several other family members taught at elementary schools. His father, Chung-Fong, worked his way up to be a professor of exercise physiology.
“I think my father wanted me to go the same way as him,” Wu told ATPTour.com. “Because he gets a really good salary.”
But the family often did something ordinary that changed his trajectory — they would leave tennis on the television.
“They went out really early and came back really late, so for me and my cousin, the easiest way to set up the kids was to turn on the TV and do their thing,” Wu said. “My childhood was we either went to the club or stayed at home and the TV was on. We couldn’t reach the remote and it was on a sports channel with Wimbledon or baseball.”
Wu’s grandparents managed a private tennis club owned by a friend, so he would sometimes tag along to the facility.
“We just hit on the wall with a racquet or threw a ball, playing baseball,” Wu said. “That’s how I started playing tennis.”
In the early years, tennis was something he just played for fun. But around age 10, Wu began taking it more seriously. The goal was to earn a scholarship to a better college. One match a decade ago changed his outlook.
“At age 14 I had an opportunity to play [the] World Junior [Championships] in the Czech Republic. We made it to the final round and I remember I played with Michael Mmoh and it was a close match,” Wu said. “At the time I realised maybe I should try to play pro because at the time he was one of the best players of his age in the world. So maybe I had a chance to be a pro player.”
The path was not always easy, though. For the past several years, Wu has battled on the ATP Challenger Tour, claiming his first title at that level last year in Florida. Fittingly, he defeated Mmoh in the final.
Still, Wu had not claimed a match win at an ATP Tour event. That changed Wednesday evening, when he upset Alexander Bublik at the BNP Paribas Open, an ATP Masters 1000 event.
“I still cannot believe it,” said Wu, who has the respect of his peers.
Australian Open doubles champion Rinky Hijikata, who has faced Wu multiple times in both singles and doubles, said: “Honestly I think he’s probably one of the best returners on Tour. He’s definitely one of the most difficult returners I’ve ever played against. He takes the ball on real early and he has big cuts on returns. I feel like he never really misses, so that’s always tough to play against.
“He’s a big, strong guy. He’s got a pretty good serve and he’s got a very good backhand. He’s very solid from the back, so it’s not easy to play against him and there are not too many weaknesses there. I think he also competes really well, pretty complete player.”
The 24-year-old, who says he enjoys baseball and can throw one 85 miles per hour, began to watch basketball this year and walked around Indian Wells Thursday wearing a Luka Doncic Dallas Mavericks shirt. He also likes to play a horse racing game on his phone.
But above all, Wu is a tennis savant. He is still the same kid who watched the sport on television at home when he had no choice.
“I have a lot of passion [for] this sport. I just really like it. If you ask me something about tennis I can talk with you the whole afternoon, whole night, whole day,” Wu said. “There is no very experienced coach or player in Taiwan, so if you don’t have the resources to hire a foreign coach, you have to kind of maintain [your game] by yourself.
“It’s been a long journey. I’ve learned a lot and I like when I realise new things and find new ideas and try it on court. I think this brings me more joy.”
Wu’s goal is to crack the Top 10 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. He is focussing on working hard in the hopes of that carrying him to his dreams, starting with his second-round match against 2021 BNP Paribas Open champion Cameron Norrie.
“I’m so proud for my family. It’s been a long journey since I decided to play professionally and I didn’t really think that I would go this far,” Wu said. “I’m just really happy that I made it and hopefully I can do better and better.”
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