Jason Jung is the type of player that nobody wants to face. Certainly not at the New York Open, where he’s through to the quarter-finals for the second straight year.
Blessed with cheetah-like speed, the 30-year-old from Chinese Taipei tracks down every ball and makes you play one more shot than you would like to. He also keeps his unforced error count low, so if his opponent hopes to win the point in a timely manner, he will have to paint the lines.
Most of the time, Jung is punching above his weight class. But while height and weight can be measured, there is no instrument that can measure a man’s grit. Jung’s nickname on Tour is “The Chisel” due to his ability to file harder-hitting opponents down to size.
He brings a hard-hat mentality to every match and is ready to battle for as long as it takes. Although he’d like to get home early from the office on some days, Jung recognises that his matches more often resemble marathons than sprints.
Jung enters every match with a classic three-prong strategy. He uses his physical conditioning to saw off his opponent’s legs by extending points with good defence. Jung also attempts to win the mental battle with good tactics and disciplined shot selection. He prefers to play medium-risk tennis and bait his opponent into going for high-risk winners. Jung then wants to break his opponent’s spirit with intense hustle and persistence.
But as last season came to an end, Jung assessed his game and acknowledged that his fitness wasn’t at the level that his taxing playing style requires.
“I felt like my legs let me down a few times in big matches last year that could have had a greater impact on my year-end [FedEx ATP] Ranking,” Jung admitted. “I could still run and fight, but though the head was willing, the body often was not. Sometimes, I could feel my legs getting heavy and it probably affected my shot selection, and not for the better.”
Jung took action and consulted strength and conditioning experts from California to Cambodia. By the end of December, he had six weeks of endless leg squats, calf raises and 400-metre sprints under his belt. But while improved leg strength would certainly help his performance, it was another body part that was causing the most problems: his head.
The baseliner suffered from a lack of faith in his game that haunted him throughout last season. His late-night analysis of tough losses eventually went from constructive to critical. Without realising it, self-doubt started to creep into his head and chipped away at his confidence.
Ironically, it was another tough loss last month that made Jung realise he had turned a corner mentally. After falling in straight sets to Christopher Eubanks at an ATP Challenger Tour event in Newport Beach, his hard work in the off-season allowed him to quickly digest the defeat and move on.
“This was the first time that I lost a set 7-6 or 7-5 and had peace afterwards,”Jung said. “I was disappointed to not get the result that I wanted, but I gave my best and did all that I could to win the match. I know that I could not have prepared better during the off-season.
”I realised that every time I lose a close set or match, it does not have to be my fault. Sometimes my opponent just played some great shots. I know that I did everything in my control to put myself in a winning position. I know it sounds strange, but finally, I can live with that.”
Sometimes, the hardest thing for men like Jung is learning how to not blame themselves when things go wrong in a tennis match. Once that lesson is learned, then they are free to play their best tennis.
Jung is doing exactly that this week in New York.