Monday, February 13, 2017

Qualifier Zhang earns rare title for Chinese men

Zhang Ze reacts after beating Vasek Pospisil to win the $100,000 KPSF Open
in San Francisco. Zhang became only the second Chinese man to capture a
Challenger singles title. Photo by Mal Taam
   When tennis was readmitted to the Olympics in 1988, China began pouring resources into the sport.
   It has paid off handsomely on the women's side.
   China's success started with Li Ting and Sun Tian Tian, who won the doubles gold medal in the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Then Yan Zi and Zheng Jie captured the Australian Open and Wimbledon doubles titles in 2006.
   But Li Na made the biggest splash by winning the French Open singles title in the 2011 and adding the 2014 Australian Open crown. Irreverence added to her appeal, and the tennis world mourned when she retired only nine months after the Melbourne title at age 32.
   Also, Peng Shuai won the 2013 Wimbledon and 2014 French Open doubles titles with Hsieh Su-Wei of Taiwan.
Zhang defeated Pospisil 7-5, 3-6, 6-2 in 2 hours, 21 minutes.
Photo by Mal Taam
   No Chinese men have made a big impact in singles or doubles, but in a nation of 1.38 billion people (18.7 percent of the world's population), it could be only a matter of time until that happens.
   China, which has six WTA and four ATP tournaments, took another step in that direction on Sunday when qualifier Zhang Ze subdued seventh-seeded Vasek Pospisil of Canada 7-5, 3-6, 6-2 in 2 hours, 21 minutes to win the $100,000 KPSF Open indoors at the Bay Club SF Tennis Center. Both players are 26.
   After Pospisil sailed a forehand long on Zhang's first championship point, Zhang joyously fell on his back and put his head in his hands in disbelief.
   Zhang, 6-foot-2 (1.88 meters), became the first qualifier of the year and second Chinese man ever to win a Challenger singles title. Wu Di took the Maui crown in January 2016. Zhang had been 0-3 in Challenger finals.
Zhang knocked off three seeds -- No. 2 Taylor Fritz, No. 5 Henri Laak-
sonen and No. 7 Pospisil -- during the tournament. Photo by Mal Taam
   Whereas China has five women in the singles top 100, Zhang leads his countrymen at No. 158.
   "Chinese men improve a lot, but (we're) not great," Zhang, who soared 37 places with the title, conceded earlier in the week. "We try."
   The 6-foot-4 (1.93-meter) Pospisil, who was treated for a leg injury in the third set, was one of three seeds defeated by Zhang. He shocked No. 2 Taylor Fritz, a 19-year-old American, in the first round and knocked off No. 5 Henri Laaksonen of Switzerland in the semifinals.
   Pospisil ascended to a career-high No. 25 in 2014, won the Wimbledon men's doubles title with Jack Sock later that year and reached the Wimbledon singles quarterfinals in 2015.
   But after plunging from No. 39 to No. 112 last year, Pospisil parted ways with coach Frederic Fontang and hired Mark Woodforde, an International Tennis Hall of Famer who won 12 Grand Slam men's doubles titles (including a record six at Wimbledon). Pospisil, ranked No. 131 entering San Francisco, rose to No. 118.
Pospisil, ranked No. 25 in 2014, hired Hall of Famer Mark Woodforde
as his coach last October after dropping out of the top 100. Photo by
Mal Taam
   Pospisil had combined for 21 aces and one double fault in 56-minute victories over 19-year-old Americans Frances Tiafoe, seeded first, in the quarterfinals and unseeded Michael Mmoh in the semifinals.
   But in the final, Pospisil had six aces and six double faults, put in only 52 percent of his first serves and saved nine of 14 break points.
   Zhang also had six aces but committed only three double faults, converted 67 percent of his first deliveries and saved three of six break points.
   Zhang overcame a 4-1 deficit in the first set of the final and broke for 4-2 in the second set on a putaway backhand volley set up by a punishing forehand down the line. Zhang held at love for 5-2 and earned a break point when Pospisil slugged a cross-court backhand wide. Pospisil then missed his first serve before committing the forehand error for the match.
   Zhang almost swept the singles and doubles titles. No. 1 seeds Matt Reid and John-Patrick Smith of Australia edged No. 2 Gong Mao-Xin and Zhang 6-7 (4), 7-5 [10-7].
   Here are the completed KPSF Open singles and doubles draws.

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