MELBOURNE, 17 January (BelTA - China Daily). - Teen star Shang Juncheng got China's breakout campaign at the Australian Open off to a flying start with a history-making main-draw win on Monday as the country celebrates its biggest presence Down Under.
Riding on the recent momentum of Chinese tennis, Shang added a chapter of his own in the sport's history after beating German power hitter Oscar Otte, 3-1, in the first round at his Grand Slam debut to become the first Chinese man to win a main draw match at the Australian Open in the Open era.
As the youngest player in the men's singles draw at 17, Shang prevailed with composure and finesse beyond his years as he stayed the course after losing a third-set tie-break to seal the coveted win for Chinese men with a solid fourth set to stun the 74th-ranked German, 6-2, 6-4, 6-7 (2), 7-5, in nearly three hours.
Shang's maiden major victory built on the collective surge of Chinese tennis recently after his older compatriots Zhang Zhizhen and Wu Yibing had also made it to the singles main draw in Melbourne to mark the first time in the Open era that three Chinese men had featured at a Grand Slam main draw.
Shang also became the first man on the ATP Tour to secure a debut Grand Slam main-draw win at 17, after Spain's current world No 1 Carlos Alcaraz did so at the same tournament last year.
Flying the flag for Chinese men at a tender age, Shang admitted it takes time to digest the magnitude of this milestone, but took pride from what he attributed as a team effort.
"I'd say in some way, yeah. I'm a little surprised that I came this fast, but at the same time, I think it's all the hard work from my team and myself that paid off," Shang told a packed main press room in fluent English at the Melbourne Park.
"I think it's huge for Chinese men's tennis. You know, we have had really good players from the women's side but not really big names in the men's.
"I'm very lucky that I'm part of this team. Hopefully we can do something big in the future," he said.
Later in the men's draw, Wu lost his debut at the AO to Frenchman Corentin Moutet in a hard-fought five-set defeat, failing to maintain his red-hot form last year that saw the 23-year-old break into the third round at the US Open to become the first Chinese mainland man to do so.
Joining Shang in the winning chart for China on Day 1 was women's No 28 Zheng Qinwen, who routed Hungarian player Dalma Galfi, 6-0, 6-2, in 56 minutes to continue her inexorable rise on the female circuit.
Led by Zheng and veteran Zhang Shuai, China's top-ranked woman at No 22, seven Chinese women had qualified for this year's main draw in Melbourne, making it the biggest ever Chinese contingent at the season-opening Slam alone with their three male counterparts.
"I think this year I am more experienced and more adapted to the competition of this level compared to last year when everything was new for me," Zheng, WTA's Newcomer of the Year in 2022, said of her quick win in the first round.
"I've also trained so hard and so well (leading up to the AO). It's a combination of everything that I managed to maintain my level quite high recently."
Starting from world No 143 at the beginning of 2022, Zheng broke into the world's top-25 in the women's ranking in October to become the first Chinese teen to do so, after moving up over 100 places to complete one of the sharpest rises on the WTA Tour.
The collective revival has raised hopes high that the Melbourne Park will celebrate major Chinese breakthroughs this year, almost a decade after retired legend Li Na won the women's singles trophy in 2014.
Honored to be compared to his great female predecessors, Shang expects to help bolster the men's side together with Wu and Zhang.
"I think physically it's a big step for us in men's tennis. But I think we're on the right track right now," said Shang. "Those two other guys they are like brothers to me," said Shang. "Hopefully we can achieve it together and soon."
As China's top man and the first Chinese mainlander to crack the world's top 100 rankings, Zhang, the current No 96, will play against Ben Shelton of the United States in his main-draw opener on Tuesday to try to reach the second round at a Slam for the first time.
Shang will next face world 16th seed Frances Tiafoe in the second round on Wednesday after the American beat German ace Daniel Altmaier, 3-1, to advance.
Facing the challenges ahead, Shang said he would count on his improving mental strength to prevail.
"Tennis is a very frustrating game, and sometimes you can lose your temper," said Shang, who's been living and training in the US since he was 13, supported by his father Shang Yi, a former pro soccer player, and mother Wu Na, a retired table tennis world champion.
"That's something I've been working on in the last couple of months, try to stay calm and think positive things only.
"I think that comes from when you're with the family, when you're with the team, how you act in life in general. It's very important to me."