For a professional athlete, first names don’t come much better than the one that Wu Di received from his uncle, which he has explained translates phonetically to “invincible” in Chinese.
At world No.186 and with limited experience among the game’s elite, the 21-year-old can’t quite claim tennis invincibility just yet. But after becoming the first Chinese man to contest a main draw match at Australian Open 2013, where he nabbed a set from the 74th-ranked Ivan Dodig, Wu has certainly made tennis history – and he’s highly motivated to keep adding to those career milestones.
Hailing from Wuhan in China, the same city that produced his Grand Slam winning compatriot Li Na, Wu is not deterred by the fact that at 173cm he’s dwarfed by taller and more powerful peers on the ATP Tour. Rather, he looks towards the players who’ve defied any height disadvantage to overcome many highly-credentialed opponents, naming Lleyton Hewitt – whom he watched win the 2002 Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai – as a prime example.
Clearly enjoying his first Grand Slam main draw outing, Wu showed glimpses of the Aussie’s spirit at Melbourne Park today, breaking the Croatian’s serve in the opening game and claiming the second set before Dodig recorded a 7-5 4-6 6-3 6-3 win. Admitting to nerves ahead of the biggest occasion in his young career, Wu’s cause wasn’t helped by the 53 unforced errors he recorded in the three hour, 15 minute encounter.
“Even (though) I lost, I can see the hopes ahead of me, so I will keep trying to do better next time,” he said.
Hewitt is among those people who believe there could be bigger things ahead to the Chinese player, pointing to the fact that Wu earned entry into Australian Open 2013 through victory at the Asia-Pacific Australian Open Wildcard Play-off in Nanjing last October as evidence of his potential.
“He’s a good little player. He hits the ball well,” said Hewitt. “I think it's just taking him a little bit of time. Because of his height, he's disadvantaged a little bit. His ball striking is as good as a lot of other players in the top hundred.”
That’s a rankings milestone that Wu would dearly love to achieve as he targets a goal of competing in consecutive Grand Slams, making the French Open the next event on his major wish list.
“Red clay is not my strongest surface. So I will practice more on (it),” Wu said.
“Coming up, Davis Cup will play on clay, so I got a chance to practice.”
Li, a finalist at Australian Open 2011 before her Grand Slam breakthrough at Roland Garros in the same year, could be among those to provide guidance, Wu relating that she’d wished him well before today’s milestone match.
“Not technically but mentally,” he said. “Last night before I go to bed I get a text message from her. She told me ‘Don’t be nervous. Don’t think about tennis. Just go to bed’.”