Jerry Shang of China, the world’s No. 1-ranked junior tennis player, booked his ticket into another ITF event final with a 6-4, 6-4 win over No. 6 seed Liam Draxl of Canada Saturday at The Boulevard Tennis Club..
“I feel like today I closed it out really well and I’m just happy to be in the final,” said Shang, who lives in Bradenton, Florida and trains at the IMG Academy. “I was growing up watching him (Draxl) play when I was around 13. He’s a great player. “I’m just playing really confident. I’ll hopefully be in the same place tomorrow.”
Shang will face Ricardo Rodriguez of Venezuela in Sunday’s 1 pm final. Rodriguez, the all-time leading Davis Cup player from Venezuela and the 2018 singles finalist at this event. defeated Ezekiel Clark of Tulsa, Oklahoma 3-6, 6-2, 6-1 in two hours and 31 minutes.
Shang’s top junior ranking on the International Tennis Federation (ITF) computer comes off of stellar results this year with appearances in the junior Roland Garros quarterfinal and Wimbledon semifinal, and was bolstered by his appearance in the recent US Open junior boys’ final where he lost to Daniel Rincon of Spain. Since then, Shang has won ITF World Tennis Tour titles in Fayetteville, Arkansas and Naples, Florida.
After a two-hour rain delay, Shang and Draxl stayed neck-and-neck to the latter stages of the opening set when the Chinese teen broke to 5-4 with a chance to serve out the set in the next game. A talented lefty, he pounded inside out forehands from the baseline to gain the first set advantage over the Canadian.
After finding himself at deuce following two set points at 40-15 and 40-30, Shang successfully served out the set by winning off of two ferocious forehands.
Shang immediately broke serve in the opening game of the second set, but Draxl rebounded to earn the break back. However, the Canadian served up a flurry of unforced errors to allow Shang to break again for a 2-1 lead off of a backhand volley winner.
Having fallen behind 1-3 in the second set, Draxl began admonishing himself on court for his less than stellar semifinal performance. He started talking out loud, saying, “Let’s gooooo – Come on. You are better than this guy. Not today.”
Draxl’s self-berating strategy clearly had a beneficial temporary effect as the Canadian broke back to 3-3. But in the next game Draxl missed a short forehand into the net to, once again, allow Shang to break his serve.
Shang had to save a break point in the eighth game before going ahead 5-3 off of a forehand winner.
After failing to take advantage of four match points on Draxl’s serve in the ninth game, Shang nailed down his final berth on what was his seventh match point when Draxl missed a backhand return off of a first serve.
Shang is hoping to become the best Chinese man in history to play tennis, joining former women’s player Li Na as a tennis powerhouse for the nation.
Li captured two Grand Slam singles trophies during her career – the 2011 French Open and 2014 Australian Open, and reached a career high ranking of No. 2 in February 2014 following her Australian Open title run.
The Chinese men, however, have yet to crack the top 100 ATP rankings with Zhang Zhizhen achieving the best ranking for his country at No. 136 in February 2020. He is currently the highest ranked Chinese man at No. 235.
Wu Di is the second best Chinese player in history having once ranked No. 140 in April 2016, but he’s now fallen to No. 696 in the world.
To be fair to Draxl, his lagging performance wasn’t all that surprising considering he suffered from serious cramping on Friday after ousting doubles partner and University of Florida sophomore, Ben Shelton, in a tough three-set quarterfinal.
In fact, Draxl admitted that he nearly pulled out of the doubles semifinal on Friday because of cramps, and that he actually fell on the ground screaming from a leg cramp in the parking lot of a Chipotle fast-food restaurant prior to the doubles match. After drinking pickle juice and water, he decided to play, which resulted in he and Shelton reaching the doubles final.
Draxl’s semifinal showing equals that of fellow Canadian and current world No. 15 Denis Shapovalov, who reached the Vero Beach semifinal in 2016, also at the Boulevard Club.
“Tennis in Canada is definitely making a push,” Draxl said. “We have Leyla (Fernandez) and Bianca (Andreescu) on the women’s side. Just seeing Denis (Shapovalov) and Felix (Auger Aliassime) up and the young group – the “Next Gen” of Canadian players coming up.
“Just seeing Denis and Felix doing so well on the pro tour, so young, makes me think I can do it too. I’m definitely inspired by them and I’m trying to follow in their footsteps.”
The 19-year-old Draxl, who was the ITA National Player of the Year and the top seed at the NCAA singles championships last season, is taking a semester off from college to play in as many Futures events as
“I love college tennis so much – I love the atmosphere and getting pumped up,” Draxl said. “I had a good year last year and took a lot of good players out. I’m just excited to go back in January and do it all again.
“But in the meantime I’m playing as many Futures as I can to get the ranking up.”
In Saturday’s doubles final, Duarte Vale of Portugal and Johannes Ingildsen of Denmark defeated Draxl and Ben Shelton of Gainesville, Florida 6-3, 6-4.