Local tennis star Zhang makes breakthrough amid 'spoiling love' from fans
China's top-ranked tennis player Zhang Zhizhen made both personal and tournament history at the ongoing Rolex Shanghai Masters by becoming the first Chinese player to reach the last-16 of the elite ATP Masters 1000 event.
He staged another impressive performance on Tuesday evening, taking on 16th seed Hubert Hurkacz in their fourth-round match, which lasted for 2 hours and 40 minutes that included two tiebreaks.
Despite his 6-7 (6), 6-4, 6-7 (4) loss to the Pole, Zhang's breakthrough in the local tournament stirred the crowd up at Qizhong Tennis Center in Minhang District. The local lad received overwhelming support from spectators through the week though there was an interlude in his last match.
The match against Hurkacz late on Tuesday evening was tense for both Zhang and the audience. With the local star leading 2-1 in the tiebreak of the first set and striving for his next point, an audience member couldn't hold back his anxiety and shouted "come on" during a rally, which affected Zhang and led to a fault.
While Zhang obviously appeared annoyed by the interference, other spectators immediately started a round of spontaneous "etiquette education," telling each other not to make any noise during a point even if it's a good-willed cheer.
To avoid any more interference, the center court crowd turned to more clapping instead of disruptive shouting to support Zhang for the rest of the match.
"This is like the strong love of parents for a child," an audience member surnamed Zhou commented. "Some parents want to give full love and support to a kid, but sometimes not in the way a child really needs… But we are very quick learners. You can really feel the bond between a player and his supporters so well."
This year's tournament covered the National Day holiday. A lot of parents took their children to watch the matches, allowing them to experience the atmosphere and teaching them tennis etiquette.
During the post-match press conference, Zhang was asked about the interference in the first-set tiebreak.
"I think I didn't control my emotions well, because I wanted to win the point too much," he said. "My objective for the match was to prolong the first set until the tiebreak, so at that time it's tiebreak period and I think I have made it. And for that particular point I found it very difficult to keep calm. What is good is I recovered in the second set."
Zhang, ranked 60, could have entered the world's top 50 had he reached the quarterfinals. But the 26-year-old didn't seem to mind.
"I think a near miss is already good enough for me. I don't think I have any pressure to be among the top 50 now, but I will continue to work hard," said the newly-crowned Asian Games singles champion.
"I'm happy that I have given everything tonight, so I can accept the loss. You all know that he has very good serve, so I just wanted to keep my game, and then try to find the opportunity to break his serve.
"I think I did it, particularly in the second set, so I did what Lu Yen-hsun (one of his coaching members) talked about, in terms of tactics of playing (against) him."
Zhang, who turns 27 next week, made history in October 2022 when he became the first male player from China's mainland to enter the ATP top 100 singles rankings. He reached his highest ranking – 52 – in July.
"I think I had a low start into the season. At the beginning of the year, usually I didn't play very well. Starting from the clay (season), I began to play better.
"I think I am in pretty good condition now. Hopefully, I can recover from my injury around the waist and continue to play good tennis for the next few weeks before the end of the season," said Zhang.