Zhang Zhizhen puts Chinese men's tennis back on Asia’s top after 29 years

global times​​​

By Lin Xiaoyi and Cui Fandi in Hangzhou and Lu Wenao in Beijing

    In a grueling battle on Saturday that lasted nearly two hours, China's Zhang Zhizhen,top seed of the 19th Asian Games held in Hangzhou, East China's Zhejiang Province, emerged victorious with a score of 6-4, 7-6(7) against Japanese Yosuke Watanuki, capturing China's first men's singles gold medal in nearly three decades.

    "My goal remains unchanged ̶ to get move my ranking and make it to the top 50... Nonetheless, with this gold, my mind-set is surely a little different now," Zhang said while answering a question from the Global Times during Saturday's post-match news conference.

    Zhang also became the second Chinese player to win the men's singles event at the Asian Games, following in the footsteps of Pan Bing who won the men's title for China at the 1990 and 1994 Asian Games. And with his victory, Zhang also secured a spot in the Paris 2024 Olympics, marking the return of the Chinese men's tennis players to the Olympic stage after 16 years since China participated in the men's singles event at the 2008 Beijing Olympics as the host nation.

    Zhang said that he was very glad to win the final, noting that Saturday's competition was really intense, as his opponent created lots of challenges for him during the game.

    "In the beginning, I felt a little bit anxious and I didn't adjust well, but I felt I could play better. I kept calm and then I adjusted to the situation," Zhang said.

    In the final, Zhang took the lead in serving but had a difficult start, falling behind 1-4. However, Zhang quickly adjusted his state and won five consecutive games, reversing the situation to win the first set 6-4. In the second set, both players engaged in a fierce battle, with the score tightly contested. In the subsequent seventh game, both sides were locked in a long-drawn-out struggle. And in the tiebreaker, Zhang, despite initially falling behind, tenaciously fought back and ultimately clinched the championship on the third match point.

    On Saturday, the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre witnessed the highest attendance since the start of the tennis at the Games. With China's National Day approaching on October 1, multiple Five-Star Red Flags were hang throughout the venue by willing fans.

    After winning the title, Zhang wore the national flag to celebrate.

    After Zheng Qinwen won the gold medal in women's singles on Friday, Zhang's win also means that Chinese players have bagged two gold medals in singles tennis at the Hangzhou Asian Games, claiming a ticket to compete in the Paris 2024 Olympics men's and women's singles events.

    "I think we can only strive for better. There are many excellent players in Asia who haven't played at the Games this time. I hope China can become better and better and the next generation [of Chinese male tennis players] will outperform us," Zhang said when asked by the media about the recent rise of Chinese tennis.

    On his future plans, Zhang said he will continue to fight on the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Tour. After Shanghai, Zhang will play Tokyo, Basel and Paris and then end his season.

    Currently, they are more young Chinese male players making it onto the ATP circuit. For example, Wu Yibing, another rising tennis star, became the first Chinese mainland player to lift an ATP Tour trophy in Dallas, the US,in February 2023.

    "I think it's good to have so many young players joining us, but I don't know how many of them will make it to the top of the game," Zhang said. "I hope more children and teenagers embark on this road. It's difficult but worth a shot."

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