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Serving up success

By SUN XIAOCHEN | China Daily | Updated: 2024-01-02 08:50
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Zhang Zhizhen and Zheng Qinwen were China's top performers last year on the ATP and WTA tours respectively. Thanks to a series of historic wins, Zhang finished the year ranked 58th, while Zheng improved steadily as the season progressed to rise to 14th. [Photo/Xinhua]

Titles, breakthroughs and young guns on the rise — China had plenty to cheer about on the tennis court in 2023

Delivering unprecedented collective success, Chinese tennis enjoyed its greatest year on the pro circuits in 2023.

Combining for five tour-level singles trophies, nine players in the world's top 100, a double of Asian Games titles, and a succession of milestones — Chinese tennis had plenty to cheer about over the past 12 months on the ATP and WTA circuits, with the rise of the country's men's aces grabbing the attention of the tennis world.

Leading the charge was 58th-ranked Zhang Zhizhen, who produced a series of breakthrough runs on the ATP Tour and won Team China's first men's singles title at the Asian Games in 29 years.

"It was probably the toughest year in my career, in that I had to overcome a lot of new challenges entering uncharted territory for Chinese men's tennis," Zhang, a 27-year-old Shanghai native, said at a recent promotional event for the Australian Open in Chengdu, Sichuan province.

"It was also the most successful year, so I'm really proud of myself and so grateful to my team for helping me through it. I've had quite a relaxing offseason and I feel ready to fight for a better result at the upcoming Australian Open."

After becoming the first Chinese mainland player to crack the world's top 100 in October 2022, Zhang stepped up another gear last year by allying his powerful serve and aggressive forehand to greater resilience, tactical maturity and mental toughness.

During the clay-court swing, he upset three top-30 opponents to reach the Madrid Masters quarterfinals — the furthest a Chinese player has ever reached at the ATP 1000 level.

He followed that up with his first semifinal berth on the tour at an ATP 500 event in Germany and a third-round run at the US Open, where he stunned Norway's Casper Ruud in a five-set, second-round thriller to become the first male Chinese mainland player to beat a top-five opponent.

Zhang put the icing on the cake in late September, winning Asiad gold in Hangzhou to become only the second Chinese man to do so following Pan Bing's triumph in 1994.

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