Zhizhen Zhang on Having to Travel Across Europe and Finding Confidence

Zhizhen Zhang
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Braunschweig, Germany–

Zhizhen Zhang made the semifinals at Braunschweig, defeating Marco Cecchinato 6-4 6-7 6-3. This has been a brilliant patch of play for the Chinese, who has already won seven matches in the past two weeks. At Luedenscheid, he finished runner-up to Hamad Medjedovic. This week in Braunschweig, he’s already eliminated quality players like Cecchinato or the top seed, Pedro Martinez.

Back in 2019, Zhang won his only two Challenger titles in Jinan and Shenzhen, both in his country of birth. However, since the pandemic, there haven’t been any Challenger events in East Asia (nothing further than Kazakhstan). “I think in Futures, they have a lot of Asia. But in Challengers and ATP, they don’t have it. It’s quite tough for us, for the Asian players. Normally, we have the Asian season. This year, we must travel in Europe or America a lot, which is not easy for us, but we cannot do anything” said the 25-year-old after defeating Cecchinato.

Can he be the first Chinese top 100 player?

Despite a number of excellent female pros (including the two-time Grand Slam champion Li Na), China has never had a top 100 player on the men’s side of the sport. The ones that got the closest were Zhang himself (136) and Di Wu (140), while recently former junior World No. 1’s Yibing Wu and Juncheng Shang are looked at as potential prospects. “All the Chinese players in men’s tennis, everyone wants to break the top 100. This is the goal for us, actually, because nobody’s made [it]. I would be really excited to be the first one to be in the top 100, but still, a long way to go, so step by step.”

Zhang’s past two seasons were perhaps not destroyed, but made much tougher by issues related to the pandemic. The Chinese is playing a full schedule again in 2022 though and definitely picking up steam. “Beginning of the year, I was losing all the matches almost, I think also it’s part of because last year, I didn’t play too many tournaments. After Wimbledon, I [went] back to China. Then I missed a lot of weeks and just built my game from the beginning, step by step. Beginning of the year maybe my mental was a little bit of a problem. (…) Now I have more confidence, you win some matches and the confidence is coming and then the tennis is just coming.”

On Friday, Zhang will play Maximilian Marterer in the semifinals at Braunschweig. Both players took part in tough three-setters in the final eight as the German eliminated Bernabe Zapata Miralles, having to clinch the victory in a deciding set tie-breaker.

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