Rising Chinese #NextGenATP sensation Shang Juncheng is soaring to new heights, currently ranked No. 140 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings.
At just 18 years old, his impressive offseason performance indicates that he has no plans to decelerate his momentum.
The teen, who is into the second round of the Australian Open for the second consecutive year, finished his 2023 season in November and immediately ran into a stumbling block.
“The funny and sad side is that first week of the offseason, I had the flu.
So that's a horrendous start, especially after the end of the season,” Shang said.
“But I think that's gotten me to learn a few more things because doing nothing at home, just feeling sick, is horrible.
“I've thought about a lot of things also with my dad and with my coach, and we've kind of changed the plan with how I do fitness and how I treat tennis.
So I think that's been working really well and I'm glad that I got everything right and now I think I'm on the right path.”
It was not the first time Shang had struggled with illness.
In fact, mononucleosis kept him out of competition for nearly two months last year.
“I'm just trying to focus on getting healthy for the whole year,” Shang said.
“That's kind of the main goal, to play the whole year very healthy and enjoy the Tour.”
That led to plenty of hard fitness work over the offseason in Florida.
At the start of the offseason, Shang weighed between 78 and 79 kilos. Now, he is closer to 72 or 73 kilos.
“I think maybe for some people losing a lot of muscle can be bad,” Shang said.
“But for me, I'm much quicker on the court.
I think I can last much longer, more flexible also.
And overall, it's been working for me, so I like to keep it that way.”
How did Shang do it? He put in the hard miles running.
“I actually love running on the track. A lot of people hate that.
Obviously running is never good, you get tired, you're out of breath,” Shang said. “I think I just treat it as a job that I have to do every day.
But also, [my fitness coach makes it] so much fun out there on the track and in the weight room.”
The toughest drill he did was running as fast as possible for six minutes straight. Shang once ran nearly 1,700 metres during that time, but believes he could do better.
“By the end, you just want to get in a bed,” he said with a grin.
Importantly, Shang’s focus on fitness has paid early dividends on the court in 2023.
The lefty reached his first ATP Tour semi-final in Hong Kong, where he won two final-set tie-breaks.
In his first-round match at the Australian Open, he defeated Mackenzie McDonald in five sets.
“Obviously [I am] much lighter.
I've been playing long sets, long matches and it hasn't affected me that much towards the end,” Shang said.
“[The training is] very tiring, but also [helps] with a lot of confidence.
“I think overall, it's just [made me] more confident on the court, I think hitting the shots.
And my coach Martin [Alund], he has always told me, ‘You don't have to rush that much going for the winners.
The other guys are just as good as you sometimes, they're just as bad as you sometimes.’
So I’m just maybe thinking more about myself than trying to be too good on the court. Because in that part, it's not really real.
Even the best have their bad moments.”
A player who has seen Shang’s progress up close is Sebastian Korda, who is into the third round of the Australian Open. They hit together twice this offseason in Florida at the IMG Academy.
“I’ve hit with him a bunch over the years, especially during Covid, we would hit quite a bit.
We would practise a lot together and spend a lot of time together,” Korda said.
“He’s someone who wants to get better every day.
He’s always super happy on court and it’s just really cool to finally see him flourish as the player he is.
It’s awesome seeing the results that he’s having right now.”
Melbourne has proven a magical city for the Chinese star.
Last year, then 17, he qualified for his first major main draw at the Australian Open and advanced to the second round.
On Thursday, Shang will have an opportunity to go one step further when he faces Indian qualifier Sumit Nagal.
As fit as ever, Shang will take the court with even more confidence in his game, body and mind.
“I think overall, it's just me thinking more positively, obviously with my team and my parents.
They've always taught me to try to enjoy more than suffering and thinking about winning or losing.
I think that's helped me a lot,” Shang said.
“Just overall I've been more happy. I've always been a happy guy.
But overall just more relaxed. I think I rely on my tennis and not trying to think too much.”
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