Zhang Sets Sights On Top 100 After Challenger Tour Title
Chinese men have been lighting up the ATP Challenger Tour recently, none more so than Zhang Zhizhen, who recently won his third Challenger title. After back-to-back runner-up finishes in Luedenscheid, Germany and Trieste, Italy it was a trip to Cordenons, Italy where Zhang collected his first Challenger title of the season.
“My emotions after winning were quite happy, because it was the third time for me this year to reach a final and the last two I lost. In Luedenscheid, it was hard to win the match, but in Trieste it was quite close in three sets. There was a chance, but I didn’t catch it.
“This time (Cordenons), after losing the first set, I was thinking ‘Oh shoot, again, one more time (I’m going to lose), I don’t want it to be like that.’ So, when I won the last point I was really excited,” he said.
This past 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 countryman Wu Yibing, who was victorious in Indianapolis in the same week the 25-year-old fell in the Trieste final. Zhang made sure the historic moment didn’t slip from his hands a second time.
“It is history for us, but I missed the chance 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 is yet to have a player reach 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. Now striving for a Top 100 breakthrough, the World No. 161 is hopeful that he will be the man to make Chinese tennis history.
But he’s not the only Chinese player with his eye on the Top 100. Zhang is in a race with Wu, whom he frequently messages on WeChat, to reach the milestone. Wu, 22, has three Challenger titles this season and, at World No. 173, is currently only 12 spots behind Zhang.
“I believe it is me and not Wu Yibing (who will do it first),” he joked. “I hope he also can reach that (Top 100). We want to be fast to break this goal and it seems like we are in a very good position. We talk about everything… but we don’t need to talk about (the ranking) because we both know it is our goal.”
Wu Yibing Ready To Get Back In The Fast Lane
Zhang believes we will only begin to see more Chinese men climb up the rankings, including recent Lexington Challenger champion, 17-year-old Shang. After Zhang and Shang were crowned champions this past week, ‘Jerry’ first reached out to the Shanghai native to congratulate him.
“Jerry sent a message to me first and said ‘Congrats!’ and then I also said ‘Congrats!’ and that he is doing very well,” Zhang said. “I was in the hotel and just sat down for some dinner. (Having) pizza and beer, I took a picture and sent it to him. Then he sent me back a picture of water at some restaurant with his family and coach.”
Coached by Luka Kutanjac, the World No. 161 will travel to Poland for the Kozerki Open before flying to the United States, where he is entered in the US Open qualifying. Should he advance, Zhang will become the first Chinese man to compete in the US Open main draw in the Open Era. Zhang has fond memories of reaching the Wimbledon main draw last season and becoming the first Chinese man to qualify for Wimbledon in the Open Era.
“It was quite special for me. Last season was my first time playing on grass and then I made it past the qualies into Wimbledon, I didn’t expect that. There’s a lot of memories there.”
And Zhang hopes there are many more to come.