APRIL 21 - MAY 4, 2025

The emperor of torment

A master escape artist, a guru of handling the pressure of three-set battles… Zhang Zhizhen is more than just a record-breaking machine, he’s also an expert in mitigating the effects of nerves. Four matches. Eleven sets. Seven tiebreaks. Three matches decided in a tiebreak. This is how Zhang rolls. He toys with you, he exhausts you and then he finishes you off. In Madrid, the Shanghai born player has seen off two recent Top 10 players in Denis Shapovalov and Cameron Norrie and a current member of that select group in Taylor Fritz, the first top-10 victory of his career. All three of them fell victim to the deciding tiebreak. Nous and experience toppling the best in the world.

Chinese tennis is in good hands. For a country the size of China, which has a tradition for tennis, it is surprising that it has never produced a big name on the ATP Tour. While Li Na once climbed to the top of the women’s game, Zhang is now bidding to make waves in the men’s and at the Mutua Madrid Open he has taken his first big step towards that goal. Zhizhen arrived in Madrid as the first Chinese player to break into the world’ best 100 players, but now he has shown that he is hungry for more. Much more. His latest victory has earned him a place among the top 70 of the ATP rankings, and one more win in the Caja Mágica would put him among the world’s top 45.

The next test for the 26-year-old player’s free-wheeling tennis will be a clash with Aslan Karatsev, who sent second seed Daniil Medvedev packing yesterday. “I’ll tell you a secret, I played a quick practice match against Karatsev and I lost 6-0. I’m gonna have to give my all and be creative, because he’s good”, admitted Zhang, laughing. However, if Karatsev wants a place in the semi-finals, he had better make sure it doesn’t go to three sets…