Zhizhen Zhang: “Sometimes It’s Better To Face One Of The Top Two Seeds!”

Zhizhen Zhang (photo: Witters/Hamburg European Open)

HAMBURG, July 24, 2023

“Men’s tennis in China has been a myth for many years,” Chinese journalist Zhang Bendou was quoted in the Australian Tennis Magazine in early 2022. “China can send rockets to space, among many other great things, but we just haven’t been able to produce even one ATP Top-100 player. We have been waiting too long.”

However, the wait is now over, as an exciting trio – consisting of Zhizhen Zhang, Yibing Wu, and Junsheng Shang – is helping China establish itself as a new force in men’s tennis. Zhang is the first player from his country to crack the Top 100 of the ATP Rankings. With his quarterfinal appearance at the ATP Tour 250 event at Naples in October last year, he finally achieved this milestone. Today, the 26-year-old from Shanghai is already ranked as high as 70th in the world.

Ahead of his first-round match at the Hamburg European Open, we met Zhang for an interview on a rainy Saturday afternoon at the Rothenbaum Tennis Complex.

TTT: Welcome to Hamburg! It’s your second time here. How does it feel to be back again?

Zhizhen Zhang: It’s raining again (laughs). I remember last time being here in 2021 and during my first practice it was even harder than today. I do know a little bit the place here and the balls. It might help me a bit.

Do you like such conditions?

Yes, I feel comfortable here. I like the speed of the court and there is no altitude. I also like the hotel, which is great.

You had some good results on clay this season. Is this your favourite surface?

I can’t say that it is my favourite surface but most of my best results I have achieved on clay.

You experienced some crazy matches this year, for example at the ATP Masters 1000 in Madrid, where you managed to come back from a set down, winning a third set tie-break in three consecutive matches. When did you develop your mental strengths?

It’s difficult to say. There are so many strong players. I just tried to keep the matches going and then you will have a chance because when you push your opponents as long as you can, every player will start to become a bit shaky.


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Could you please tell us a bit about tennis in China in general. There are also some other players climbing up the ATP Ranking.

Yes, first of all there are also Yibing Wu (World No. 78) and Junsheng Shang (World No. 150). Of course, we know each other pretty well. We are friends off the court, but not on the court (laughs). There are also some other players ranked outside the Top 200, who couldn’t compete during the Covid crisis. It was a tough situation for us. Now, they are trying to come back again, playing ATP Challenger events or on the ITF World Tennis Tour in Asia. Hopefully, they will also climb up the rankings soon. A lot of the young players learned that it is not impossible to break into the Top 100 and now they are starting to believe in themselves. It’s a motivation for them.

The Tour will be back in China in autumn for the first time in four years. Are you looking forward to it?

I am going to play the Shanghai Masters. It is my hometown. Even though, I didn’t have so many good results in the past there, as I haven’t won a set so far, I still love to play in front of my home crowd.

You won two ATP Challenger titles on home soil and one last year in Cordenons, Italy. How would you describe the difference between tennis events in Europe and Asia?

The main difference is the surface, as most of the tournaments in Europe are held on clay. There are a lot of good players competing in these events. It’s a different style of tennis. In Asia, we only have a few clay-court tournaments. Most of them are held on hard courts and most of the competitors come from China, Japan and Korea. There are only a couple of players coming from America or Europe.

You fell in the first round of the Hamburg European Open two years ago. What can we expect from you this week when you start your 2023 campaign against a qualifier?

I lost to a qualifier last week and he went on to the semi-finals. Sometimes it’s better to play one of the top two seeds. But every week is different. I hope I can achieve some positive results.

Our tournament ambassador Andrea Petkovic mentioned your name when she was asked about ” a guy to watch”. She is a huge fan and thinks that you are a potential new superstar in men’s tennis. Are you flattered hearing this and how would you describe your character?

I am really surprised but I am also happy to hear that. Thanks to her (laughs). However, I think that I am still too far away from that level. We are just beginning. I have entered the Top 100, which is a first step but you still have to keep up your level. You need remain solid and there are still many things to improve.

Thank you and good luck for the tournament.