Following a six-year hiatus from professional tennis, Australian Li Tu decided to make a comeback to the sport. Just over two years after making his return, the 26-year-old won his maiden ATP Challenger Tour title and dedicated the victory to his mother, who recently passed away.
This past week, Tu advanced through qualifying en route to triumphing at the Seoul Challenger, where he defeated China’s Wu Yibing 7-6(5), 6-4 in the final. Following the match, the Adelaide native was overcome with emotion.
Tu’s mother, who passed away in September, would’ve celebrated her birthday the day after his title. Tu, who travelled to the Gwangju Challenger the day following his mother’s funeral, dedicated the Seoul title to her.
“It’s been a tough couple months,” Tu told ATPTour.com. “My mom was very ill, she passed away on the 24th of September. On that weekend was the Seoul 250 event and I was in the qualifying list. I booked the flights and I was ready to go, but then I cancelled that so I could be with my mom, because I knew I’d regret it so much if I left and she passed away. So I cancelled that trip, she passed away that Saturday.
Li Tu celebrates winning the 2022 Seoul Challenger. Credit: Do Won Kim
“I remember one evening we were talking and she said, ‘I’ll see you in Korea’. She got me good there,” Tu said. “On that Friday, we had her funeral and the next day I was on the flight over to Korea.
“Before I won the title, the people that knew that I left straight after mom’s funeral were like, ‘Wow, I respect you so much Li for making a hard call to go over [to Korea], best of luck!’ Tu said. “When they found out I had won the title, they were so happy for me. I wanted to honour my mom after I won the title, I couldn’t have done it without her.”
Tu’s journey to the ATP Challenger Tour has been a unique trek. In 2014, the Australian was finding success at the junior level, but the-then 18-year-old decided to put his racquets away to pursue a college degree and a coaching business, resulting in a six-year hiatus from professional tennis.
When Tu reflected on his young career, he admitted that he struggled with the mindset it took to put in the daily work. After stopping initially in 2012 but returning the following year because of ‘boredom after high school’, Tu hung up the racquets for good in 2014, or so he thought.
“I quit in 2014 and at that point I was like, ‘No, I’m done, tennis is not for me,” Tu said. “I loved winning but I didn’t actually love the grind, training, setting a schedule, and falling in love with the process. When it was raining, I was very quick to say, ‘Oh let’s do nothing today, don’t worry about it’. I needed someone to push me to go to the gym and do a bit extra. I wasn’t that motivated to train and to be the best I could be.”
During his time away, Tu earned a bachelor’s degree in Commerce in Marketing at the University of Adelaide. While coaching at his L2 Academy, founded in 2017, he discovered a newfound love for the sport.
“When I finished university, I started a tennis coaching business and it wasn’t until I started that, working with some really great kids, where I started to fall in love with the sport and appreciate everything. The mentality is different this time around.”
If it wasn’t for Tu’s close friend having a heart-to-heart conversation with him two years ago, he may have never returned to professional tennis. He seemed content with his life and coaching juniors in Adelaide. After playing local UTR tournaments in July 2020, things started to change for Tu.
“After one of my matches, a very good friend of mine, Daniel [Buberis] , was like, ‘Li, what are you doing with yourself?’ Tu said. “I told him I’m coaching and he said, ‘Do you want to play?’ I was like, ‘I’ve been getting a bit of an itch’. After that, we sat down for coffee and we talked about it, we both were like, ‘Yeah, let’s do this!’
“He put a six-week training block together. He was a really big influence on why I came back. Also, being involved in the sport and refinding a love for the game, the process and the training, that helped me get back into the sport. If it wasn’t for coaching, I don’t think I would’ve found that.”
Nearly two years after starting ‘proper training’, Tu made his Challenger Tour main-draw debut at the Rome (Georgia) Challenger in July. His title run in Seoul was just his seventh Challenger appearance. The Aussie is now at a career-high 190 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, a vast improvement from his ranking of 681 a year ago.
Tu will return home to compete the next two weeks at the Playford and Sydney Challengers. He is also set to get married to his fiancée Kimberley in November.
It’s safe to say that 2022 holds memories that Tu won’t soon forget.
Title: Li Tu Dedicates Challenger Title To His Late Mother
Sourced From: www.atptour.com/en/news/atp-challenger-tour-li-tu-seoul-feature-2022
Published Date: Thu, 20 Oct 2022 16:50:00 Z
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