© Andrew Eichenholz/ATP Tour

Zhizhen Zhang and Di Wu are the first Chinese pair to reach the second round of an ATP Tour singles event since 2015 Shenzhen.

Zhang & Wu: The Chinese 'Brothers' Making Noise In Zhuhai

Childhood friends both reach the second round at inaugural ATP 250 in Zhuhai

Zhizhen Zhang first met Di Wu when he was six years old. The Chinese players competed against one another by the time Zhang was eight and Wu was 14.

“I had no [tools[ to play with him. I lost,” Zhang said.

“I met him when he was very short, just up to here,” Wu said, holding his hand low to the ground and cracking a laugh. “I played junior matches with him in Shanghai, some tournaments, and of course I beat him!”

Little did they know that 16 years later, with Zhang now towering over Wu, they’d both be making history on the ATP Tour. Wu and Zhang both won their first-round matches at the inaugural Huajin Securities Zhuhai Championships, becoming the first Chinese pair to advance to the second round of a tour-level event since Shenzhen in 2015.

“It could send a message to all of the [Chinese people] because we are winning now. We have a chance to win and we can do something,” Zhang said. “We are showing that we took the wild cards, but we can win now. We’re taking chances, we’re still trying to win and we can make some results.”

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Zhang won his first ATP Challenger Tour title in Jinan, China, earlier this month. And now he is sharing a special moment in Zhuhai with one of his closest friends in Wu.

“We have such a long relationship. We do everything for each other,” Zhang said. “I would say not a brother, but he could be the one important man in my life. Maybe I have a lot of important guys in my life, but he’s one of them.”

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It’s special for Wu, too. Zhang sat in his box on Monday to watch him defeat Tatsuma Ito, and he returned the favour on Tuesday when Zhang ousted Dominik Koepfer.

“He’s my teammate and we’ve trained together since he’s very young. Also… we’re good friends. Yesterday he watched me play and he was very excited. He played today and I had to watch him play, it’s like teamwork,” Wu said. “This is the first time we won at the same tournament on the ATP Tour. For both of us it’s exciting, and we’re playing doubles together here, too. It’s a good feeling.”

Both players had enjoyed success at this level previously, with each of them entering this week with multiple tour-level victories. Zhang, now 22, was just 18 when he qualified for Shenzhen in 2015 and then reached the second round.

“In that moment I thought I was going to fly, I was going to make it to something. But I got a big injury. I was running and I broke my left foot,” Zhang said. “After that injury I thought it was trouble. I played two or three Futures. The first week I lost right away and said, ‘Okay, no problem.’ The next week I won a round, got a point and was like, ‘No problem, I’ll come back.’ But then I kept falling and falling and falling and falling. In 2017 the beginning of the year was still so bad, but I was trying to be better, practising more to come back again.” 

That hard work paid off when Zhang qualified in Shenzhen that year and carried his momentum all the way to the quarter-finals, where he fell short in a deciding set. That result helped him crack the Top 400 for the second time, but it took him until this July to reach the Top 300.

“I have no idea why. In 2015 and 2017 I had amazing years. Right away after each of those years I disappeared, I dropped,” Zhang said. “It’s a little bit of a different feel when I’m playing on the Tour than Challengers and Futures. The focus is different.”

Wu, who has climbed as high as No. 140 in the ATP Rankings, had not won an ATP Tour match since 2017 Shanghai. He is in good form, though, reaching a Challenger final in Shanghai a little more than a week ago.

“Last night I didn’t sleep good because I was very happy to win at this big tournament,” Wu said. “The Chinese Tennis Association gave me this very important wild card and I won to show them I want to come back… I had a lot of pressure on myself, but I trust myself. I played well last week making the final of a Challenger, so this week I’m playing very well also.”

Now, Wu will try to make his first tour-level quarter-final when he faces St. Petersburg finalist Borna Coric, the fourth seed.

“This is a dream. I never passed the second round,” Wu said. “Coric is pretty strong, he played last week in a final. He’s a tough player. I’ll try to be relaxed. I hope we can keep this level.”

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