Advertisement

Lulu Sun’s unexpected grand slam rise lighting up Wimbledon

<span>Lulu Sun is proving a revelation at Wimbledon after her run to the quarter-finals.</span><span>Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty Images</span>
Lulu Sun is proving a revelation at Wimbledon after her run to the quarter-finals.Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty Images

Before Emma Raducanu won the US Open in 2021, the idea someone could win three matches to qualify for the main draw of a grand slam and then go all the way to the title seemed outlandish, if not plain ridiculous. That lightning could strike twice, in the name of Lulu Sun, who few even inside the tennis world had heard of before this week, seems almost insane.

But it’s possible. Ranked 123, the 23-year-old shocked the No 8 seed, Qinwen Zheng, in the first round and then, on Sunday, ended Raducanu’s hopes of reaching a first Wimbledon quarter-final with a brilliant performance on Centre Court, whipping her lefty forehand into the corners to take her place in the last eight.

Related: Emma Raducanu defends decision to pull out of mixed doubles with Murray

She was born in New Zealand to a Chinese mother and Croatian father, and her family moved first to Shanghai and then Switzerland because they wanted their daughter to have an outstanding education. Raised in Geneva, she played junior tennis for Switzerland before switching her allegiance to New Zealand in 2018. She then went to the University of Texas at Austin, where she studied political science. She speaks three languages – English, Mandarin and French – and is learning Korean because she thinks it may help her to learn Japanese at some stage. Not your usual tennis player. Oh, and her stepfather is from Devon.

“Chinese, from my mum’s side, is very disciplined, hard-working,” she said. “From my dad’s side, he’s from the seaside, so very laid-back and calm. I guess that’s a good combo. From my mum’s side I get that feistiness and competitiveness. Swiss side is neutral [making a calming gesture] and from New Zealand I get that adventure side come out of me.

“I’m really happy to be able to have so many cultures and backgrounds with me, even though sometimes I’m not, as I said before, 100% [fluent] in each one. It’s impossible to be. I’m really grateful to be able to at least have some of it.”

It’s fair to say that few saw this coming. Certainly not Sun, who had never played in the main draw here before and made her grand slam debut at the Australian Open this year. And certainly not New Zealand television, who had to move swiftly to arrange for her matches to be shown live after she reached the third round.

Sun’s multicultural background means she could have chosen a few countries to play for but having been born in a small town on New Zealand’s South Island called Te Anau, she felt a natural pull. This was much to the disappointment of the Swiss, who are crying out for a new star after the retirement of Roger Federer and with Stan Wawrinka nearing the end of his career.

It was a difficult choice, Sun says, but one she’s glad she made. “I grew up a little bit in New Zealand. I was born there, my family is still there,” she said. “I grew up in Switzerland as well. Both countries are dear to me.

“It wasn’t an easy decision because it never is when you have to choose between two things. Even now, I’m still grateful for everything that Swiss tennis has done in my junior career. At the same time I’m also grateful for Tennis New Zealand for their support.

“I think [reaching the Wimbledon quarter-finals] is a major step because it brings inspiration and it brings to all the players in New Zealand something to look up – not just for myself, but the country as a whole, tennis in New Zealand, to be able to look farther.”

The run will also change the trajectory of Sun’s career. Reaching the quarter-finals means she is set to rise to just outside the top 50 in the rankings – if she beats Donna Vekic she will go inside the world’s top 40 – and the £375,000 she is guaranteed for making the last eight dwarfs the $313,832 she has made in her career.

Sun is the first New Zealand woman to make the quarter-finals here and the first person from her country to make the last eight since Chris Lewis, the runner-up to John McEnroe in 1983. She will play Vekic in the quarter-finals on Tuesday and, though the Croat has far greater experience, Sun is playing with such confidence and freedom that a place in the semis is more than possible.

“Vekic is an experienced player, she’s been on tour for a long while, so I’m going to just prepare my best,” she said. “I’m going to try to recover my best and then watch some matches and practice a little, give my all on the next day.”