Harvard By Day, ATP Tour By Night
Brian Shi left the New York Open venue on Tuesday evening with memories to last a lifetime. An unranked player who won entry into the main draw through a collegiate wild card event, the 19-year-old pushed World No. 59 Cameron Norrie in a tight two-setter, with the Brit ultimately winning 7-5, 6-3.
Some fans in the Long Island crowd might have known Shi is a Harvard University sophomore. But they didn’t know he is travelling more than 200 miles tonight to make a 9am macroeconomics class in Massachusetts.
“It’s kind of fun,” Shi told ATPTour.com, cracking a smile.
But not quite as fun as competing in his first ATP Tour event.
“It felt amazing. Coming on court, as soon as I saw my teammates and my parents, all the nerves went away. The atmosphere was amazing,” Shi said. “It was such an incredible experience, even though I didn’t get the win. Definitely a great learning experience for sure. It's going to give me way more motivation coming back to school to train harder for next time.”
Shi may not own a FedEx ATP Ranking, but he wasn’t unfamiliar with the players he was seeing around the hallways. The New York native, who grew up just a 15-minute drive away in Jericho, has watched everyone in the tournament on television.
“Just seeing my name in the draw next to all these big time players was surreal,” Shi said.
But the right-hander didn’t seem out of place when he took a 3-0 lead against Norrie, who has climbed as high as World No. 41. What was Shi thinking during that changeover?
“Not much, honestly. When I go into all my matches — this match was no different — I just try keep my head as empty as possible,” Shi said. “Obviously there are some thoughts in the back of my mind like, ‘Oh wow, I’m up a break against Cameron Norrie, this is frickin’ awesome.’”
Funny enough, Shi’s team got to FaceTime with former World No. 4 James Blake — who played for Harvard — a couple of weeks ago. Blake’s advice applied to that situation.
“I think the best advice that he gave, and it's the same advice that I've heard from many good tennis players throughout the past few years, is to not get too high when you're playing well and doing really well. Then, when you're not playing as well, not to get too low to try to keep that equilibrium,” Shi said. "That's how to stay motivated and not get too discouraged when you’re not doing well.”
Shi didn’t end up getting the win, but he acquitted himself well, breaking serve twice to stay close to the 24-year-old lefty. Only 12 hours stand between the time Shi shook hands with Norrie at the net and when he’ll be sitting in a classroom in a different state. The educational aspect of his life helps, too.
“The biggest thing is the discipline as a student-athlete, not just at Harvard, but any college,” Shi said. “You have to balance playing tennis, balance school work, social life also, so much on your plate.”
Shi is clearly handling that balance well. And after a night he'll never forget, he’s hungrier than ever to work on his game.
“I definitely have some work I need to get done,” Shi said. “I’m very excited for what's to come ahead.”