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"Very excited" Shang flying to more firsts in Melbourne

  • Dan Imhoff

Jerry Shang has quite a knack for notching firsts at the Australian Open.

A year ago, the slightly-built 17-year-old – neck adorned in gold chains and sporting an eye-catching piercing in his left ear – qualified for his maiden major at Melbourne Park and became the youngest player in the men’s draw.

One of a record three from his nation in the men’s field, the left-hander went one better and turned heads as the first Chinese man to secure an Australian Open main draw win in the Open era.

The 18-year-old has a chance to go one better than last year's second-round effort in Melbourne

“I played an unbelievable player,” 16th seed Frances Tiafoe said after he ended the teenager’s run in the second round. “He's going to be an unbelievable player, he already is a really good player. It's tough playing someone that young. You know they're coming for you.”

MORE: AO 2024 men's singles draw

The chains and earring were again part of the teenager’s ensemble for his AO return against Mackenzie McDonald on Tuesday, while those same effortless groundstrokes and frantic footspeed soon reminded fans at 1573 Arena why he was a name to watch in 2024.

Shang’s 6-3 1-6 3-6 6-4 6-2 triumph was his maiden victory over five sets.

“Playing here, it's unbelievable. Today I was on a bigger court, as well,” he said. “Overall I feel great. I mean, last year was like maybe a week ago, it feels like. For me, everything has been very positive so far.”

Shang had sporting pedigree on his side before he burst onto the scene at last year’s Australian Open.

His mother, Wu Na, was a former world champion in table tennis and his father, Shang Yi, a former soccer player in the Chinese national team.

There was no containing the 18-year-old’s parents’ joy among a sea of Chinese flags in the stands once their son prevailed after three hours and 26 minutes.

“Today was, like, tornadoes on the court,” he said. “Both of us were struggling kind of on the service games. Running was also tough in the heat.

“But definitely the crowd hasn't changed and the courts haven't changed (from AO 2023). Playing good here, very confident … I think conditions are very fast here. The air is really dry sometimes.

“For me, I think I like it when it's fast. It's got a good Chinese crowd here, too, so they were supporting me like crazy today. Thanks to them. It was good energy on the court.”

Shang already had much to celebrate heading into just his third Grand Slam main draw following a run in Hong Kong earlier this month, which he deemed the “most important of my life”.

As a wildcard, he saved match points against top-50 opponents Laslo Djere and Botic van de Zandschulp back-to-back for his maiden tour-level quarterfinal.

Shang turned heads and earned praise after his run in Australia last January

Shang then stunned his AO 2023 conqueror, third seed Tiafoe, in straight sets before eventual champion Andrey Rublev finally brought his breakout dash to an end in a three-set semifinal.

"I played him twice before and went down both times,” Shang said of his Tiafoe rematch.

“[It] was really a mindset change for me. Sometimes you gotta respect the player a little bit less. He's an amazing player and amazing person.”

More history is on the line in Shang’s next match at Melbourne Park when he meets Indian qualifier Sumit Nagal.

With countryman and friend Zhang Zhizhen also through to the second round, there is a chance two Chinese men could reach the third round at the same major for the first time.

“I think tennis is obviously an individual sport, but definitely I'm very happy for him,” Shang said.

“I'm actually hitting with him tomorrow. He's got a lefty (next), so we'll get a good hit tomorrow, prepare for our second round.”

A shot at second seed Carlos Alcaraz could eventuate should the Chinese teenager land successive wins at a major for the first time.

For now, the focus is squarely on world No.137 Nagal.

“This is only my second time playing here main draw. Sumit has been on the tour for a very long time, a really experienced player,” he said.

“I don't know much about his playing style, but from what I saw, he's a really fast guy, kind of similar to how I play, I think. For sure it's going to be a long battle. I'm very excited.”