Battle Of Generations: The 23-Year Age Gap In Shenzhen
They say that age is just a number. On Wednesday, that philosophy was put to the test at the ATP Challenger Tour event in Shenzhen.
At the age of 41, Toshihide Matsui battled 18-year-old Chun-hsin Tseng in what was the largest age difference ever in a Challenger match. The Japanese veteran squared off against the budding #NextGenATP star from Chinese Taipei in the cozy confines of Court 5 at the Shenzhen Longhua Open.
Consider this: When Matsui was 23 years old and first embarking on his professional journey, Tseng was first born. More than two decades later, it was the teenager who got the better of his elder in the battle of generations.
One of four players aged 18 & under in the Top 400, Tseng is Asia's #NextGenATP hopeful. Nicknamed 'Jason', the Taipei native is transitioning from an impressive junior career that saw him take the 2018 titles at Roland Garros and Wimbledon. He capped it off with a dream appearance at Nitto ATP Finals in London as a hitting partner, warming up Roger Federer at The O2.
"He's very fast and is always so calm," Matsui said of Tseng. "That surprised me a bit. He's also quite disciplined for his age. When I was 18, I wasn't doing half the stuff he is. I saw him before the match doing elastic bands, running and other drills. That's very impressive."
Competing in his first full season as a professional, Tseng has already made great strides on the Challenger circuit. In August, he reached his first final on the clay of Prague, where he earned a breakthrough win over top seed Andrej Martin. The 18-year-old has also tested his mettle on the ATP Tour, pushing Nicolas Jarry to a deciding tie-break in Barcelona qualifying.
"It was a tough start to the year, but after I got to the final of the Prague Challenger, I feel my form and confidence was returning," said Tseng. "There is a big difference from juniors to the pros and I had to make that adjustment. Junior players are not as consistent and in the pros they are all very experienced. They hit every ball with a good mindset and have much more stamina on the court."
Tseng carries a unique background to the tour. He admits that without his family, none of this would be possible. While his father Yu Te Tseng travels with him throughout the year, his mother Chung Han Tsai remains in Taipei City to run the family's food stand at the Lehua night market. There, she sells tanghulu, a treat made of glazed fruit and tomatoes on a stick, coated in a hardened sugar syrup.
Between the lines, the teen is kicking off his tenure with new coach and former World No. 12 Dominik Hrbaty. He admits that while they have just started working together on a full-time basis, the emphasis has been on improving his serve and fitness. A Top 250 finish to 2019 is the goal, with a maiden Challenger title among his 2020 ambitions.
And as for Matsui, the oldest player with an ATP Ranking is part of a larger movement of Japanese veterans pushing the tests of time. He is one of many from his country who are competing into their 30s and 40s, along with Go Soeda, Tatsuma Ito and Yuichi Sugita.
"In Japan, we have a WTA player Kimiko Date Krumm, who went through the same thing, playing into her 40s and facing girls much younger than her. In baseball, our legend Ichiro was playing well into his 40s and there's a 50-year-old soccer player. I think it's going to happen more and more, with the body changing and advances in technology. Before, when you were 30 it was considered old. Age is now just a number.
"I don't know how much longer I'm going to play, but I feel good and I think I can beat this guys. Not just being out there, but playing with them and competing. For tennis players, thinking about getting older puts unnecessary worry and pressure. I feel the Asian mindset is different in that it stresses enjoyment and satisfaction on the court rather than that feeling of anxiety of getting older. I've been very lucky with my body and I still love being on court and seeing how far I can go."