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September 26, 2023

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Zhang, Wu: Rivals yet partners

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 Hangzhou, where he has received overwhelming support from his hometown folks over the past two days since the Games officially kicked off.

At Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre 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 yesterday.

“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.”

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 yesterday. Zhang was down 0-3 in the first set, but rallied to victory.

Earlier in the day, Wu saw off Indonesia’s Justin Barki 7-5, 6-1 in another second-round encounter.


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