Australian tennis star Li Tu wins first ATP Challenger title days after losing his mother to cancer
Reborn Australian tennis player Li Tu celebrated an emotional maiden ATP title just three weeks after losing her mother to cancer, lifting the trophy the day before her birthday.
The grieving son delivered a moving eulogy at his funeral on September 30 and then, fighting tears, flew to Korea the next morning. And it all went like never before in Seoul as an inspired Tu qualified for the main draw and played out of his skin to become champion.
WATCH VIDEO ABOVE: Li Tu overwhelmed with emotion after winning his maiden title.
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Tu upset four players with higher rankings – including fellow top seeds Christopher O’Connell and James Duckworth – in a week he dropped just one set.
The 26-year-old beat China’s Wu Yibing 7-6 (7-5) 6-4 in the final, collapsing to the ground after a match point and kissing his wrist.
“To be able to do it the day before his birthday was incredibly, incredibly special,” Tu said. The first serve.
“One of the best memories I’ve had.”
He had only revealed his mother’s death in an Instagram post the day after the final, reflecting on his life, his battle with cancer and motivating words with a series of images and a clip of his eulogy.
“Today is your birthday mom,” Tu wrote on Instagram.
“It’s been the hardest two months of my life. Watching you battle cancer, struggle and fight every day as you slowly lose your senses.
“To continue tennis training because you’ve been relentless I have to keep going and you’re ‘getting better’. Being by your side as you breathed your last on 9/24/22 surrounded by our loving family .
“A few days before you died, you said to me, ‘I’ll see you in Korea,’ and I burst into tears.
“Coming to Korea the day after your funeral, I wasn’t sure I could do it but before every game I looked at the sky and couldn’t help but smile when I saw you.
“We did it mom.”
A who’s who of Australian tennis offered their support, with Nick Kyrgios, Thanasi Kokkinakis, Mark Philippoussis, Rennae Stubbs and Daria and Luke Saville responding to Tu’s message.
Tu’s opponent in the final Wu Yibing also put the result aside to leave a heart in the comments of his friend’s post.
“I really struggled to fly, to be honest. There were a lot of tears on the flights, I don’t know if I could do it,” Tu told The First Serve.
“I just said ‘you know what’. I had a pretty good feeling for some reason that mom would be there to support me and this week right before every game I remember looking up at the sky and seeing her face.
“It really helped me calm down and have that inner confidence. Even sometimes during games, when I felt like I needed a little energy or a little extra support, I remember just that when changing sides, I was always looking up.
Beyond the emotions of dedicating his first ATP-level title to his mother, Tu also jumped over 100 places in the rankings to reach a career high of 190th in the world.
After the Challenger tournaments in Gwangju and Seoul, he headed straight to Busan for a final event in Korea, while he will make a thrilling return home later this week to play in Adelaide and Sydney.
Tu will marry partner Kimberley in November before resetting ahead of the 2023 Australian Tennis Summer.
Tu re-emerged on the tennis scene in February 2021 when a second crack in the sport paid off – to the tune of $100,000 – with a wildcard to the Australian Open.
Once a highly rated junior, the potential didn’t pay off when rising through the professional ranks, and Tu shifted his priorities to college and a junior coaching business.
But stunning results in Tennis Australia tournaments during the COVID-19 pandemic prompted him to return to the professional ranks.
Less than two years later, Tu is the ATP Challenger champion.
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