Dante Bottini first saw Shang Juncheng playing tennis at the age of fifteen. Botini was coaching Chilean Nicolas Jarry, who trained with the teenager. His first impression of Jerry was simple.
“Amazing,” Botini told ATPTour.com. “Very nice. A great player. I mean obviously he was very young, but I can really tell he has a lot of potential.”
It didn’t take long for Zhang to prove that the Argentine’s instincts were right. The 17-year-old Chinese star has become the first man in history from his country to win a match at the Australian Open. This came after the teenager managed to qualify for the Grand Slam tournament on his first attempt.
“I’m a little surprised that I came in so quickly, but at the same time, I think all the hard work from my team and I paid off,” said Shang. “I guess I’m just excited about what comes next.”
Number 194 in the world has been a hot place for years. The son of two professional athletes – father Zhang Yi played soccer and mother Wu Na was a world championship-winning table tennis player – he trained at the Chinese branch of the Emilio Sanchez Academy before moving to the Florida location at the age of 12. A 15-year-old at IMG Academy, where he developed into the world’s No. 1 junior at 16 years old.
Through IMG, Shang has been able to train with some of the best players in the world, including Denis Shapovalov. Al-Kindi quickly became impressed.
“The first impression—and I was impressed with it a while ago the first time—is that I liked his style. I think a lot of kids when they’re good, they get this cocky attitude,” said Shapovalov. “But it was completely different. He was always so smiling, so happy to be on the field and he’s obviously an incredible talent, but I think he’s doing really well.”
Although Shang was clearly talented with the racquet, the way he played the game from a young age caught Botini’s attention.
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“He was always very smart when he was playing,” Botini said. “Obviously when he’s 15, he’s not strong enough yet. But he’s going to be so smart and make some decisions through the points that you might say, ‘Wow.’”
Shang climbed nearly 500 places in the Pepperstone ATP rankings in 2022, from world number 666 to number 184. With his first round main-draw win against Oscar Ottey, the 17-year-old climbed to no. .150 in the Pepperstone ATP ATP direct ranking.
But Chang and his team are going to get ahead of themselves. They take every day as an opportunity to learn and improve. Botini has a lot of experience in this department.
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Shang Juncheng claimed his first Grand Slam win on Monday in Melbourne. Credit: Paul Crook/Getty Images
The Argentine was the longtime coach of Kei Nishikori, who like Shang was a rising star with his own highlight. The pair worked together for nearly a decade, and Potene helped Nishikori reach the world number four ranking.
“What I remember we did well and it helped was not to rush things. Don’t rush things and just keep working on upping his game,” Botini said. “Jerry is obviously 17, he’s got a great game, but he’s still growing as a human being, as a person . Still growing up. We need to be very careful and guide him on the right path.”
Bottini began working with Shang this off-season. The Chinese player quickly grew to enjoy working with the veteran coach, who also mentored former world number three Grigor Dimitrov.
“Dante, I’m so lucky to have him by my side. I mean, his opinions mean a lot to me. We often talk about how to play the game,” Shang said. “On the team, we all agreed that everything is my mind, that everyone can play tennis well, And just having a positive mindset in the big moments can change the whole game.”
Botini explained that it’s not just about getting the mindset right now, but instilling it early on in Shang’s career to help in the future.
“I am always very positive and also try to be aggressive with an aggressive mentality on the field. Obviously he was [that way] Since we started working together. Botini said all the training we do is to keep going a little bit more. “I’m not saying to the net, but be a little more aggressive. He’s been doing great in training and obviously in matches. He’s also been very positive on the court and has an aggressive mentality. That’s why he’s been playing some great tennis I think and closing matches the way he was stamped out.”
With four wins to the bag – three in qualifying and one in the main draw – Zhang is high on confidence. He will be able to swing freely on Wednesday against Frances Tiafoe, who is a semi-finalist at the 2022 US Open.
“I think in general this whole week has been different for me. I was playing my first Slam tournament, every day I was so nervous to get on the field,” said Shang. “But at the same time, it’s one of the best moments I’ve had so far. In my career, so like I said, I’m really excited to be on the field, and everything is a learning process for me. I am very happy to be here.”