Li Na inspired Shang Juncheng; Now Shang enters the sun | ATP Tour
The feats are starting to pile up for Shang Juncheng, the 17-year-old who qualified for the BNP Paribas Open on Thursday. The teenager will be the first Chinese to play in the Indian Wells main draw and the first player from his country to qualify for an ATP Masters 1000 event, among other achievements.
Anytime you do something that puts you in the same sentence as Rafael Nadal – Shang is the youngest Masters 1000 qualifier since a 16-year-old Nadal in Hamburg in 2003 – things are probably going well.
“It’s always special to see what I’ve achieved,” Shang, who passed Francisco Cerundolo and Mats Moraing in qualifying, told ATPTour.com. “But for me it’s more important to move forward.”
Shang, who faces fellow qualifier Jaume Munar on Friday, will go ahead with plenty of cheering fans, especially in China. CCTV-5 News, which broadcasts to more than a billion consumers nationwide, shared an interview Thursday about qualifying for Indian Wells.
According to Zhang Bendou, who won the 2013 Ron Bookman Media Excellence Award at the ATP Awards, fans in China are eagerly waiting for a man from their country to crack the ATP Top 100 for the first time.
“Right now, Juncheng’s every move is big news and is closely watched by tennis fans here,” Zhang said. “Men’s tennis in China has been a myth for many years. China can send rockets into space, among many other great things, but we just haven’t been able to produce a single ATP Top 100 player from the start. We have waited too long. Now we hope the wait will be over soon.
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Shang’s tennis adventure began a little over ten years ago. Her father, Shang Yi, and her mother, Wu Na, were both professional athletes. Shang played football and Wu was a world champion table tennis player. They both love tennis and introduced their son to the sport when he was six years old.
“I remember it was in an indoor facility and you could hear a lot of players hitting and the sound of the ball was really loud. I thought it was really cool to be able to hit with another player. It’s just more intense with competition,” Shang said. “My parents really loved tennis. They were both athletes, so sport for them was just day-to-day activities. They introduced me to tennis and I really loved it, especially the competition.
Like most kids growing up in recent years, Shang’s favorite players were the ‘Big Three’ – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. But at the beginning, he was mostly interested in entering the court himself.
“Acting was the most fun,” Shang said. “I always thought when I was playing on the court it was more cool than just watching the guys play. But as I got more interested in tennis when I was older and watching the big names play was a lot of fun for me. I think when I was eight I started to like it.
“For every player when he’s little, when he picks up a racquet, he dreams of being on the biggest stages in tennis. I was one of those kids and playing makes me very happy.
Shang trained at Academia Sanchez-Casal Nanjing in China, a branch of the academy led by Spanish legend Emilio Sanchez. Shang’s father played football in Spain, so in that sense there was a familiarity.
“He really trusted the process of creating Spanish players and we were actually going to Spain,” Shang recalled. “But we heard that Emilio Sanchez had moved to the United States, that’s why we entered the academy there in Naples.”
At age 12, “Jerry” and his father moved to Florida, where he immediately impressed Sanchez, who reached world No. 7 in singles and No. 1 in doubles.
“He was always a super nice boy. He always had his way of doing things, it seemed like he always had one more piece of equipment,” Sanchez said. “He played at one pace, then he played another game at another pace, he always had extra equipment to play.”
Shang began training at the IMG Academy, also in Florida, when he was nearly 15 years old. At 16, he became the No. 1 junior in the world. The Chinese teenager has proven to be comfortable against the pros, winning four events on the ITF World Tennis Tour. Sanchez thinks he has a full game. But if there’s one thing he can improve on, it’s getting more out of his serve.
“Everyone will see him and say, ‘This kid is effortless.’ , said Sanchez. “It doesn’t matter how good the player is on the other side. It won’t bend, it will always stay straight. He has a super strong core. He does things smoothly and he will absorb any kind of power from opponents in a very, very nice way.
Shang Juncheng has reached the men’s singles final of the 2021 US Open. Photo credit: Sarah Stier/Getty Images
Shang could become a pioneer for men’s tennis in China like two-time major winner Li Na has been for the sport as a whole.
“She was one of my idols growing up and seeing her win Grand Slams is the most special thing ever,” Shang said. “Especially seeing Chinese players capable of doing it gave me a lot of hope.”
Zhang Bendou added that anticipation for Shang’s future is growing. “Juncheng Shang has made history and is very successful with his Chinese fans and on social media. Ever since our gold medal at the Athens Olympics in 2004, Chinese tennis fans have been truly blessed with their players. , but only on the women’s side, led by Li Na and her colleagues,” Zhang said. “You should always have a balance between yin and yang, right? They’re really looking forward to getting a tour-level male player, now they might get one.”
Sanchez thinks there’s no doubt Shang will make it into the Top 100 and make national history. The Spaniard isn’t concerned with the pressure on the teenager.
“He has no pressure from China. He will have global pressure every time he arrives, but not because he will be the best Chinese player,” Sanchez said. “He really wants to be on top and he has that ability to be on top.”
It’s a huge moment for the highly touted youngster. But you wouldn’t have known that on Thursday. Shang made American and Chinese media before sitting inside Stadium 1 to watch a WTA match between Caroline Garcia and Dayana Yastremska.
Shang is like many others, a kid who loves tennis. Off the field, he enjoys golfing and reading books. The Harry Potter series is “by far” his favorite – Harry is his favorite character – and he recently read Towards the sands of the dunes. But for now, he is focused on the opportunity against Munar.
“I’m just very happy to play in this tournament and qualifying was one of my biggest goals this year,” Shang said. “I’m excited. Hopefully I can give him a fight.