Zhang Zhizhen made history on Tuesday at the Mutua Madrid Open, where he became the first Chinese player to reach an ATP Masters 1000 quarter-final.
The 26-year-old accomplished the feat in style, saving three match points to rally past eighth seed Taylor Fritz 3-6, 7-6(5), 7-6(8). It marked his first Top 10 win on his third attempt.
“I didn’t think about this. Didn’t really think about [his] ranking, because you just need to give the best you can,” Zhang said in his on-court interview. “Before the match, you know it’s a very tough player. There is no weakness, so [I] just tried what I can do. Then [after] losing the first set, [I was] thinking about trying to play a little bit closer match. In the end [that] I can win, that’s amazing.”
It has been a breakthrough week for the Chinese star, who upset World No. 13 Cameron Norrie in the third round. At the time, not only did that make him the first player from his country to reach the fourth round of an ATP Masters 1000 event, but it had been the biggest win of his career by Pepperstone ATP Ranking.
Zhang wasted no time adding to his resumé. He will next face former World No. 14 Aslan Karatsev for a spot in the semi-finals.
“I’ll tell you a secret. We had a practice, I lost 6-0 with Karatsev,” Zhang said. “I’ll do my best. Here everyone is a great player, huge player. They all have some very good results. [I will] try to do the best what I can do.”
The 26-year-old is up to No. 66 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings, the best ranking of his career. If he defeats Karatsev, he is projected to crack the Top 50 and become the highest-ranked Chinese man in history, passing close friend Wu Yibing, who ascended to World No. 55 earlier this year.
Fritz will rue plenty of missed opportunities. The American led by a set and a break. Even when Zhang rallied, Fritz led 3/0 in the second-set tie-break and 6/4 in the third-set tie-break.
The eighth seed prides himself on his performance under pressure, but he was unable to land the final blow. Zhang played with courage, bludgeoning a forehand at 4/6 and then showing deft touch to erase another match point at 5/6.
Fritz earned his best opportunity at 8/7, when he overcooked a forehand from the middle of the court. Zhang, who entered the tournament with a 4-9 record in tour-level deciding sets, has now won three consecutive final-set tie-breaks.
“After so many losses you feel calm,” Zhang said, cracking a smile. “You don’t feel too much after you lose so many matches.”
Did You Know?
This was the 11th final-set tie-break in the tournament, which is an ATP Masters 1000 record. The old mark was 10 final-set tie-breaks at the BNP Paribas Open in 2014 and 2018.