Chinese men have lit up the ATP Challenger Tour recently, including Zhang Zhizhen, who recently won his third Challenger title. After consecutive second-place finishes in Luedenscheid, Germany and Trieste, Italy, it was a trip to Cordenons, Italy where Zhang won his first Challenger title of the season.
“My emotions after winning were quite happy, because it was the third time for me this year that I reached a final and the last two that I lost. In Luedenscheid it was hard to win the match, but in Trieste It was pretty tight in three sets. There was a chance, but I didn’t take it.
“This time (Cordenons), after losing the first set, I was like ‘Oh shoot, one more time (I’m going to lose), I don’t want it to be like this.’ So when I won the last point I was really excited,” he said.
Last week, Zhang and Shang Juncheng became the first Chinese duo to win Challenger titles in the same week (Shang won in Lexington, Kentucky).
Three weeks ago, Zhang narrowly missed making history with compatriot Wu Yibing, who claimed victory in Indianapolis the same week the 25-year-old fell in the final in Trieste. Zhang made sure the historic moment didn’t slip away a second time.
“It’s history for us, but I missed the opportunity earlier, the same week Wu Yibing won in Indianapolis,” Zhang said. “This time, I was like, ‘I don’t want to miss the chance!'”
China does not yet have a player in the Top 100 of the Pepperstone ATP rankings, but Zhang believes he could be the one to change that. In 2020, the Shanghai native climbed to No. 136, which remains the highest ranking achieved by a male Chinese player. Seeking a breakthrough in the Top 100, the world No. 161 hopes he will be the man to make Chinese tennis history.
But he is not the only Chinese player aiming for the Top 100. Zhang is in a race with Wu, who he frequently messages on WeChat, to reach the milestone. Wu, 22, has three Challenger titles this season and, ranked 173rd in the world, is currently only 12 spots behind Zhang.
“I believe it’s me and not Wu Yibing (who will do it first),” he joked. “Hopefully he can get that too (Top 100). We want to be quick to break that goal and it looks like we’re in a really good position. We talk about everything… but we don’t need to talk ( ranking) because we both know that’s our goal.
You might also like: Wu Yibing ready to get back to the fast lane
Zhang thinks we’ll only start to see more Chinese men moving up the rankings, including recent Lexington Challenger champion Shang, 17. After Zhang and Shang were crowned champions last week, “Jerry” first contacted the Shanghai native to congratulate him.
“Jerry texted me first and said ‘Congratulations!’ and then I also said ‘Congratulations!’ and that he’s doing great,” Zhang said. “I was at the hotel and just sat down for dinner. (Having) pizza and beer, I took a picture and sent it to him. Then he sent me back a photo of water in a restaurant with his family and his trainer.
Trained by Luka Kutanjac, the world No. 161 will travel to Poland for the Kozerki Open before flying to the United States, where he is engaged in the qualifications for the US Open. If he advances, Zhang will become the first Chinese to compete in the US Open main draw in the Open era. Zhang has fond memories of reaching the main draw at Wimbledon last season and becoming the first Chinese to qualify for Wimbledon in the open era.
“It was quite special for me. Last season was my first time playing on grass, then I went through to Wimbledon qualifying, I didn’t expect that. There are a lot of memories there. -down.
And Zhang hopes there will be many more to come.