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Wild-card Shang smashes it in Madrid

Chinese prodigy notches up career first Masters clay court victory

By SUN XIAOCHEN | China Daily | Updated: 2024-04-26 08:59
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China's tennis prodigy Shang Juncheng has again served notice in his meteoric rise on the men's professional circuit with a career-first Masters win on clay in Madrid.

Highlighted by success stories of major champions Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner, the power shift in men's tennis has seen an inexorable surge toward next-generation talent in recent years, with Shang, a 19-year-old left-hander, emerging strongly as an intriguing prospect to watch among an ambitious pack.

The world No 111 stole the show at the Mutua Madrid Open on Wednesday as he prevailed in a nearly four-hour marathon against Frenchman Corentin Moutet to clinch his first main draw victory on clay at a top-tier ATP1000 tournament.

Relying on his trademark resilience, agility and clean ground-stroke, Shang survived the eventful encounter against his 88th-ranked opponent after hitting 43 winners while winning 70 percent of his first-serve points to outplay Moutet, 6-7(9), 6-2, 7-6 (10), in his main-draw debut at the Madrid Masters.

Shang's quick footwork, aggressive baseline shots and mental toughness, a style which evokes memories of Australian great Lleyton Hewitt, helped him pull through a dramatic match, during which Moutet needed a point to be replayed after he was accidentally sprayed with water being applied to an adjacent court and, after a short while, quarreled with umpire Raluca Alexandra Andrei, asking for a cup of coffee between points in the third set.

"He's such a nice guy off the court. We have a good relationship, but he always has a variety of plans to try to win a match as a competitive player. I knew it and I am OK with it," said Shang, who set up a second-round challenge against 28th-ranked local favorite Alejandro Davidovich Fokina on Friday.

"It's got to be the longest match I have ever played in my life, and the first time that I finished playing this late," said Shang, who climbed to his current career-high ranking of No 103 on the back of the win.

"On clay it was very tough physically against an amazing player like Corentin. The level was insane. Even had I lost, I would not have had regrets. It was almost the perfect match for me.

"I really appreciate the support from all the spectators, who stayed on to watch us until midnight, and particularly from my team. This win belongs to them as well."

Now, with an instant rematch against Fokina on the horizon, Shang said he will seek revenge against the Spaniard, who beat him in straight sets in the second round at the Miami Open last month.

"Hopefully I can do a better job in my second chance (facing him).What I've learned (since then) is not to complain, always enjoy each shot, focus on my own performance and to not leave any regrets on the court."

Should Shang avenge his Miami defeat in the next round, he is expected to crack the world's top-100 for the first time next week, becoming just the fifth under-20 player ranked above the elite benchmark.

As a former junior world No 1, Shang, whose father used to be a professional soccer player and mother played table tennis, knows that early promise in professional sports does not always translate into consistent career-long success, yet he has never minced words about chasing after big dreams.

Although far from his higher-profile peers Alcaraz and Sinner in rankings at the moment, Shang is committed to eventually joining the elite party at the top of the game.

"I have a clear direction: I want to be a very aggressive player, but, at the moment, I'm not as strong as I would like," Shang revealed during an earlier interview with Spanish media

"Carlos Alcaraz is a model for everyone, just like Jannik Sinner, they are two of the young players who are producing the best tennis. I don't want to copy them, but I want to learn from them, as happened to me with Carlos in Australia," said Shang, who had to retire in the third set in his third-round clash against Alcaraz due to injury at this year's Aussie Open in January.

Also on Wednesday, in the women's draw, world No 42, China's Wang Xinyu, pulled off an equally impressive comeback after saving 10 match points in the second set to beat Bulgaria's Viktoriya Tomova, 5-7, 7-5, 6-4, securing her own debut victory at the WTA1000 tournament in Madrid.

Wang, a 22-year-old power hitter, was pushed to the verge of losing by 81st-ranked Tomova, when she was trailing 7-5, 5-2, before she rallied back to save three match points — all on her second serve — to keep the match going.

Readjusting herself after a brief changeover, Wang saved seven more on Tomova's serve in the next game, which went to deuce 12 times, before Wang was able to turn the tide and eventually escape with a thrilling win in two hours and 49 minutes.

Wang will challenge No 21 seed Caroline Garcia of France in the next round on Friday at the Caja Magica. Three other Chinese women, No 37 Yuan Yue, 57th-ranked Zhu Lin and veteran Zhang Shuai, were eliminated in the opening round.

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