Lu Yen-hsun will step on court at the US Open in New York this week safe in the knowledge that even a first-round defeat would be unlikely to put too much of a dampener on a year lit up by his run to the quarter-finals at Wimbledon.
His profile has received a huge boost since those heady June days. After being mobbed by press and fans on his return to Taiwan following his heroics in London, he told two dozen television crews and about 100 reporters at a press conference the next day that he was “somewhat in awe” of the media attention.
Newspapers charted his father’s untimely death, his struggles to rise from a comparatively humble background to somewhere near the top of the tennis tree and his forthcoming marriage to Chien Chiung-wen, the daughter of a Control Yuan member. He’s featured on a special Taipei EasyCard, graced the covers of magazines — in one case stripped to the waist and wielding his racket — and can even be seen adorning the sides of some of Taipei’s buses.
All the ballyhoo aside, how big a deal was his success at Wimbledon?
After all, following his defeat of US star Andy Roddick in an epic five-set encounter at the All England Club, Lu — who has yet to win an ATP Tour singles title — was subsequently crushed 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 in his last-eight clash by Novak Djokovic.
He did, however, achieve the best ever singles performance by a Taiwanese player in a Grand Slam singles tournament and became the first Asian man since Japan’s Shuzo Matsuoka in 1985 to progress as far at Wimbledon.
His run meant Taiwan had a presence in the last eight of the men’s singles, something that tennis powerhouses such as the US, Russia and Germany could not match.
Lu’s success in London helped him break into the world’s top 50 for the first time and he has said his target now is to reach the top 20.
His German coach, Dirk Hordorff, is optimistic.
“Lu now knows that he can beat the best players in the world and that will make it easier for him from now on. I believe he still has great promise,” Hordorff told CNA last month.
Indeed, as well as Roddick, Lu has claimed the scalps of top 10 players Andy Murray and David Nalbandian in recent years, but he needs to put together strings of wins as he did at Wimbledon to really give his ranking a boost.
Whether Lu has had his “15 minutes of fame” or his performance at Wimbledon was a genuine breakthrough remains to be seen.
He is 27 now, a relatively advanced age for a tennis player. After all, Rafael Nadal at the age of 24 has eight Grand Slam titles under his belt and Roger Federer claimed his first Wimbledon at 21.
A big factor for the future may be his ability to avoid the injuries that have plagued his career. Only a couple of weeks ago he was forced to retire from his match against Lleyton Hewitt at the Cincinnati Masters with a lower back/hip problem, although he said he would be fit for the US Open.
Injuries aside, his form since Wimbledon has been up and down.
He won four matches, including two in qualifying, to reach the last 16 at the ATP Masters Tournament in Toronto earlier this month, but suffered a first-round straight-sets defeat against 64th ranked Alejandro Falla of Colombia the week before in Washington.
Lu faces Juan Ignacio Chela in the first round at Flushing Meadows in a match he should be confident of winning. The 30-year-old Argentine is probably past his best and has yet to get beyond the second round at a Slam this year. Lu, at 41, is ranked only nine places above his opponent, however, so a tough match may be on the cards.