As the son of a Chinese footballer, Shang Juncheng is acutely aware of the ruthless nature of competitive sports and the immense burden that failure can bring. Yet, it is precisely because he is the offspring of a Chinese footballer that Shang has learned from an early age how to alleviate and release pressure, fostering an indomitable spirit of refusing to accept defeat.
In the first round of the Australian Open on Tuesday, the 18-year-old tennis prospect displayed this exceptional mental fortitude to the fullest extent. Despite losing two consecutive sets to American star Mackenzie McDonald after initially securing a promising lead in the opening set, Shang staged a sensational turnaround, ultimately emerging victorious with a narrow 3-2 triumph over his more illustrious opponent.
Shang, ranked 142nd, showcased an impressive ability to capitalize on 50 percent of the break points he earned. In contrast, McDonald, who had reached a career-high ranking of world No. 37, struggled to convert his break point opportunities, managing a mere 28 percent success rate. This proved to be a pivotal factor in McDonald’s downfall.
With this victory, Shang secured his first-ever five-set win in a Grand Slam event, solidifying his place as the first male player from the Chinese mainland to make it to the second round of the Australian Open for two consecutive years.
For Shang, this triumph over McDonald was not only a historic milestone but also a delicious taste of revenge. The two had crossed paths in the first round of the Zhuhai Open last year, where Shang fell victim to cramping in the decisive set, preventing him from exhibiting his optimal performance and resulting in an agonizing loss.
“When I reached the fifth set today, I must admit I felt a twinge of nervousness,” said Shang. “In the last encounter against McDonald at Zhuhai, I suffered from cramps during the deciding set. It was a gutting defeat. However, this time around, I managed to find my composure and gradually gained more confidence as the match unfolded. It was undoubtedly a grueling battle, as playing five sets demands both physical endurance and technical finesse.
“This was only the second time I’ve gone the distance in a five-set showdown, and my opponent put up a great performance as well. This victory is a testament to the effectiveness of my recent physical training, affirming that I am indeed on the right track.”
Born into a family deeply rooted in sports, with his father being the former Beijing Guoan striker Shang Yi, and his mother the renowned Chinese table tennis player Wu Na, Shang has carried the weight of high expectations. At just 11 years old, he embarked on a journey to the U.S. alongside his family to pursue professional tennis training. His hard work paid off in 2021 when he achieved a momentous feat by securing the runner-up position in the U.S. Open Junior Event.
Last year’s Australian Open saw Shang’s remarkable rise as he battled through the qualifying rounds and earned a coveted spot in the main draw, marking his debut appearance in a Grand Slam tournament. He then made history by advancing to the second round in Melbourne, leaving a lasting impression.
However, after the dazzling run, Shang’s form took a sudden downturn. He faced huge disappointment with a first-round exit at the French Open, followed by unsuccessful attempts to qualify for Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. To add insult to injury, his campaign as local favorite at the China Open and Shanghai Masters also ended prematurely with early eliminations.
Last winter, Shang and his coaching team took time for reflection and analysis, leading them to make significant adjustments to his diet and training regimen. Shang reduced his carbohydrate intake while increasing his consumption of meat and vegetables. In terms of training, the focus shifted from strength and muscle-building to running and agility exercises.
After dedicating himself to more than two months of rigorous training, Shang not only shed some weight but also made noticeable strides in his physical fitness. His innate agility and versatility on the court were further honed.
Earlier this month, Shang’s relentless efforts yielded incredible results at the Hong Kong Open. He outclassed the world’s 16th-ranked player Frances Tiafoe, securing a well-deserved place in the semifinals of an ATP tour event for the first time in his career. This outstanding achievement granted Shang a wildcard entry to compete in the Australian Open. From there, the rest is history.