China’s top-two ranked male tennis players Zhang Zhizhen and Wu Yibing will partner each other for the first time. The duo is paired in the doubles competition at the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou.
Shanghai native Zhang is 60th in the ATP rankings, while 98th-ranked Wu hails from the host city of Hangzhou, where he has received overwhelming support from his hometown folks over the past two days since the Games officially kicked off.
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At Hangzhou Olympic Sports Center Tennis Center, they eased past Chinese Taipei pair Ho Chenjui and Wu Tung-Lin 6-3, 6-0 in the first round on Sunday, and defeated the Qatari duo Alharrasi Mubarak and Naif Mashari 6-3, 6-4 in the second round on Monday.
“After yesterday’s match and today’s singles, I feel more relaxed,” said Zhang. “I found form a bit late today, thankfully he (Wu) was leading the pace.”
“We’re used to playing singles, and we don’t have a lot of time to practice doubles,” Wu noted. “So we’ve done our best with very limited time.
“I think doubles involves taking more responsibility. It’s not only about yourself, you have to talk to each other, get to know what you’re going to do in each situation.”
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The duo said they will pair for more competitions in the future, including the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.
As a Hangzhou native, Wu’s home advantage is incomparable, with family, friends and relatives attending his matches.
“Not only my parents, but my cousins, my parents’ cousins, and my best friend, they all came to watch me play,” he pointed out. “With them beside me, I can really release myself.”
As China’s top professional players, Wu and Zhang have spent most of their time travelling around the world for competitions over the past two years.
“It’s been a long time since the last time my father watched me play,” said Wu, who was in tears when greeting his relatives after their doubles victory on Sunday.
Wu secured his first ATP Tour title in Dallas, Texas, in February, while Zhang performed better in the second half of the year, overtaking Wu to become China’s top-ranked male player.
“I’m also dreaming of becoming a tour-level champion. It’s always been a goal for me,” Zhang pointed out. “We try to improve each other. I try to push him, and he tries to push me. You cannot be alone, it’s too boring and you lose motivation.”
Zhang has a very busy schedule in Hangzhou, playing in the singles, doubles, and the mixed doubles. In the latter part of the Games, he might be playing three matches a day.
He beat Ammar Faleh A Alhogbani of Saudi Arabia 7-5, 6-2 in the second round of the men’s singles on Monday. Zhang was down 0-3 in the first set, but rallied to victory.
“I couldn’t find this guy, man!” Zhang said after the match. “I tried to research him last night, but I could only find his ranking, nothing else. That’s why I was a little bit surprised at the beginning.”
Earlier, Wu beat Indonesia’s Justin Barki 7-5, 6-1 in another second-round encounter.
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“The first (singles) match of any tournament is always tough to play, especially against a guy you don’t really know,” Wu observed.
“For the seeded players in our position, you always play with pressure, while the other players have nothing to lose. Also, our match videos are available online, and our opponents can get prepared.”
Regarding the tough first set, Wu explained he was trying out some drop shots and slices, working on them in a match situation instead of on the practice court. But then in the second set, he had to pick things up.
“We can’t promise to play our best tennis in each match, but a good player should learn to fight back when he is behind or in a relatively poor form,” said Wu. “I’m glad that Zhang and I both got the (singles) victories. Hopefully we can try our best to see each other in the final.”