A Tale Of Two Cities: Shang Knocks Out Shelton For Second Time In A Week

Juncheng “Jerry” Shang (photo: Ben Solomon/Mubadala Citi DC Open)

WASHINGTON, August 2, 2023 (by Michael Dickens)

The delight in Juncheng “Jerry” Shang‘s face after he secured his second straight main-draw win at the Mubadala Citi DC Open in two days was noticeable.

For the first time in his young career on the ATP Tour, the 18-year-old from China — youngest in the draw — and ranked a career-high No. 149, has put together back-to-back wins. He now has four Tour-level victories — and two of them have come against 43rd-ranked American hopeful and fellow #NextGenATP rising star Ben Shelton, the 2022 NCAA singles champion. Shang’s first triumph occurred last week at the Atlanta Open (6-4, 6-4) and now a week later, he has prevailed in Washington, D.C.

Mind you, Shelton, 20, came to town with a wild card, was seeded 14th in the ATP 500 event, and spent some of his preparation time sparring with heavy-hitting Thanasi Kokkinakis and Christopher Eubanks on the practice courts. However, as Shelton learned, practice doesn’t always make perfect. He was facing the former World No. 1 junior and now Shang is through to the third round at an ATP Tour event for the first time.

On Tuesday, in the opening match on Stadium Court, a poised and composed Shang sprinted out of the starting gate early, broke Shelton twice in the opening set and never really looked back as he won 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 in an hour and 41 minutes. Through it all, the 5-foot-11, 162-pound Shang was steady under pressure. He used his left-handed advantage in his service games, hit forehands effectively off the ground and unleashed his volleying skills. He had the right response for every challenge that Shelton provided.

By the end, Shang won 72 percent of his first-serve points, struck 16 winners, converted five of nine break-point chances and outpointed Shelton 73-62 to win the battle of the young lefties.

“First, Ben is an amazing player. He is doing so well this year. I’m happy for him,” Shang said in his on-court interview. “We’ve known each other since we were kids. I knew it was going to be a tough one. Obviously, rankings-wise, he’s the favorite. But I came in pretty confident and played the tennis I wanted. I’m glad I won.”

After toiling through the summer heat and humidity for four straight days — winning two rounds of qualifying followed by wins over Emilio Gomez and Shelton — Shang has earned a well-deserved day off. Next, he will face World No. 10 and second-seeded hometown favorite Frances Tiafoe, who beat No. 75 Aslan Karatsev of Russia, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5), in the night session opener on Stadium Court.

Shang was asked if there was an advantage to playing someone he knew well — especially someone whom he had just beaten — and with a match already under his own belt. “Definitely, the rhythm is really good,” he said. “I came from qualifying and already had two extra matches. I’m getting used to the heat. For him it’s tough [after having a bye], and a little bit of a slow start. I’m glad I took advantage.”

With plenty of moxie and poise, the likable Shang, who takes his nickname from the Tom and Jerry cartons, is showing round by round he’s got the right stuff to do well and go far this week.

Also advancing in the men’s ATP 500 event:

• Fifth seed Grigor Dimitrov, competing in Washington for the eighth time, advanced to the third round after defeating 2021 Washington runner-up Mackenzie McDonald of the United States, 7-6 (6), 6-2. The No. 60 McDonald was attempting to earn a sixth career Top 20 win. Instead, the 20th-ranked Dimitrov improved to 13-1 in his opening round matches and 16-2 against opponents ranked outside the Top 50.

“Very tricky opponent today, so, yeah, very happy the way I performed,” Dimitrov said in his news conference. “I think it was a good match for me. Still a few things to clear up in my game, but other than that, Imfeel in a good spot. Yeah, little by little, I hope I’m getting better.”

• No. 112 Michael Mmoh of the United States pulled off a big upset of No. 4 seed and 17th-ranked Hubert Hurkacz of Poland, 6-3, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (4), in two hours and 55 minutes on a packed John Harris Court.

Mmoh, 25, withstood 20 aces from the Polish No. 1 while winning 74 percent of his first-serve points and saving six of seven break points. He outpointed Hurkacz 123-118.

“This [win] is definitely pretty special because it was on home soil,” Mmoh said in his post-match news conference. “You know my dad actually used to live out here in Maryland. So, you know, I’m actually an all-D.C. fan. I support the Commanders [NFL], I support the Wizards [NBA]. So to get one here in a place I like, you know, Imcall it second home in a way. It’s pretty cool.”

Other Tuesday winners include: Thanasi Kokkinakis of Australia, lucky loser Sho Shimabukuro of Japan, Brandon Nakashima of the United States, American qualifier Zachary Svajda, Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland, Jordan Thompson of Australia and Alexander Shevchenko of Russia.

Like the good old days: Brady makes return to WTA Tour a winning one

American Jennifer Brady played her first WTA Tour match in nearly two years on Tuesday and it was a winning effort, a 6-2, 6-1 victory over No. 28 Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine. The 28-year-old Pennsylvania native, who was sidelined since summer 2021 due to knee and foot injuries and arrived in the nation’s capital with an injury-protected ranking, returned to form and needed only 68 minutes to advance.

The 2021 Australian Open semifinalist and former World No. 13 has returned to Tour-level competition after reaching the second round of an ITF 100K warm-up event in Granby, Canada last month. Against Kalinina, Brady dropped only two points on her first serve, pounced on her opponent’s second serve and broke the Ukrainian six times. She outpointed Kalinina 59-37 to move on against No. 7 seed and doubles partner Madison Keys, who eased past No. 24  Zheng Qinwen of China, 7-5, 6-1.

“I’m pretty happy with the way I came out, handled my emotions, stayed true to my game plan, and was able to come out with a win,” Brady said in her on-court interview. “Tennis is a part of who I am, and hope I never lose that. I’m happy to just be out here competing with the best.”

Also advancing in the women’s 500 event:

• American qualifier Hailey Baptiste, 21, of Washington, D.C., enjoyed a homecoming in front of family and friends on Stadium Court. Ranked 204th, Baptiste upset former World No. 1 and current No. 23 Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, 6-1, 0-6, 6-3, to set up a Wednesday evening Stadium Court showdown with World No. 7 and third seed Coco Gauff.

Other Tuesday winners include: Lucky loser Peyton Stearns of the United States, Sorana Cirstea of Romania and qualifier Leylah Fernandez of Canada.

Around the Mubadala Citi DC Open

Kei Nishikori withdrew from the men’s draw prior to his first-round match on Tuesday due to a left knee injury. The 33-year-old Nishikori of Japan returned to the Tour in June following a 20-month absence. He won an ATP Challenger Tour title in Puerto Rico and won eight of 10 Challenger-level matches before returning to the ATP Tour last week in Atlanta, where he reached the quarterfinals.

“I was having knee pain left from last week and it got a little bit worse after [my] first match last week,” Nishikori told ATP media. “I was trying to play a couple more matches. It was okay, but hurting more, more and more. So, I tried to play, but I was not good enough to play. Unfortunately, I have to withdraw.”

The 2015 Washington champion, who owns an 18-7 tournament record including two other semifinal appearances, was replaced in the draw by 161st-ranked Sho Shimabukuro. The lucky loser from Japan bested No. 186 Lloyd Harris of South Africa, 6-4, 6-3, for his first ATP Tour win and will face No. 11 seed Christopher Eubanks of the United States in the second round.

• NBA superstar Kevin Durant, a Washington, D.C. native, had a front-row seat for Tuesday evening’s featured match between Frances Tiafoe of the United States and Aslan Karatsev of Russia, won by Tiafoe 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5). Durant came on court afterward to give Tiafoe a hug and bantered with the American No. 2 during his on-court interview with Rennae Stubbs.

Wednesday’s order of play

By the numbers

Jennifer Brady‘s last match on the WTA Tour came 731 days ago, in the second round of the Western & Southern Open. There, she retired with a foot injury, which was diagnosed as a torn plantar fascia, against Jelena Ostapenko.

• Michael Mmoh owns a 4-4 record versus Top 20 opponents (3-1 in 2023). His other Top 20 victories this season came against No. 13 Alexander Zverev at the Australian Open (R2) and No. 12 Felix Auger-Aliassime at Wimbledon (R1), both times as a lucky loser.

“Quotable …”

“I don’t think there is necessarily an advantage if I’m playing the other American guys. I think it can always go either way because the Sam can be said about they know my game really well, too. So, it is what it is.

“There is maybe always a little bit of added pressure when you’re playing the guys, because we’re friends. At the end of the day, we do want to beat each other.”

— World No. 9 and Washington top seed Taylor Fritz of the United States on playing other Americans and the collegial rivalries they share with each other.