When a loss is really a win

I don’t mean to patronize Wu Di (吴迪), but his first round loss to Croatia’s Ivan Dodig at the Australian Open is still something to be celebrated.

The 21-year-old from Wuhan became the first Chinese man to play in the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament in the professional era. He had qualified via a wildcard playoff in Nanjing last year, and despite an early break at the start of the match and a solid second set, he went down 5-7, 6-4, 3-6, 3-6.

No one – not the fans, not the bookmakers, not even Wu himself – expected the youngster to overcome the world number 74 in Melbourne. That much was clear from Wu’s post-match comments, when he conceded that Dodig is a much better player.

But the task now is to repeat the feat and get his world ranking up from 158 to a level where he qualifies automatically for the big events. If he manages that, he might just gain a few more fans – and sponsors – back home. He said afterwards that he rarely gets any support from locals when he’s playing in China, so he was shocked in Melbourne when even foreigners were cheering for him.

But even if this ends up as the peak of his career – which it won’t, by the way – he has notched a small, but important, milestone for Chinese men’s tennis, and has made it that much easier for someone else to come along and emulate him.

It may be a Wuhan thing – the hometown of Li Na (李娜), too – but finally there is a sign that the Chinese men may, eventually, match the women.

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