Zhang Handles Home Pressure For Quickfire Shanghai Win

  • Posted: Oct 04, 2023

Zhang Handles Home Pressure For Quickfire Shanghai Win

In-form Safiullin downs Murray, sets Zverev rematch

Zhang Zhizhen sealed a hometown breakthrough in style Wednesday at the Rolex Shanghai Masters.

The leading Chinese player in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings raced to a 6-1, 6-2 triumph against Richard Gasquet to claim his maiden victory at his home ATP Masters 1000 event. The 26-year-old made his main-draw debut four years ago at the previous edition of the Shanghai event (l. to Hurkacz), and he was relieved to break his duck at the next opportunity in front of his home fans.

“I was very nervous before the match because I had never had a success in Shanghai,” said Zhang, who had also not won a qualifying match in five attempts at his home event. “Finally, in 2023, I got a first win, so I’m super happy about it.”

Zhang arrived in Shanghai this year a completely different prospect to his previous campaigns. He rose to a career-high No. 52 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, the highest position ever achieved by a Chinese player, in July and became the first player from his country to earn a Top 5 win by downing Casper Ruud at the US Open in late August.

Raised expectations, combined with the hype surrounding a new wave of Chinese stars that also includes Wu Yibing and #NextGenATP Shang Juncheng, could have impacted Zhang on Shanghai’s Stadium Court on Wednesday. Yet he struck 27 winners to Gasquet’s six and did not face a break point in a quickfire 55-minute victory.

“It is more pressure, because more people are following me and more people have eyes on me, but I’m happy like this,” said Zhang. “It’s better than no one seeing you… The fans are super great, as well as my friends and family, so I appreciate them coming [to support me].”

Zhang will now focus on a second-round clash against Tomas Martin Etcheverry. It will be a maiden Lexus ATP Head2Head meeting between the Chinese and the 28th-seeded Argentine Etcheverry.

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Roman Safiullin also enjoyed a straight-sets triumph on Wednesday, when the Chengdu finalist downed three-time Shanghai champion Andy Murray 6-3, 6-2.

Safiullin converted five of eight break points he earned to level his Lexus ATP Head2Head series with Murray at 1-1. It was a first Masters 1000 match win on hard courts for the 26-year-old, who reached the third round as a qualifier on the clay of both Madrid and Rome earlier this season. Safiullin will take on Alexander Zverev next in a rematch of the Chengdu final from eight days ago.

American duo Mackenzie McDonald and Marcos Giron were also straight-sets winners at the Qizhong Tennis Center. McDonald improved to 17-8 in opening rounds for the year by beating Corentin Moutet 6-2, 6-3, while Giron marked his Shanghai debut with a 6-4, 6-2 triumph against Daniel Elahi Galan.

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