History-maker Zhang keen for more Wimbledon flag-bearing duty

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Zhang Zhizhen the first Chinese male player in the Open era to qualify for Wimbledon bowed out in the first round beaten in a five set thriller by Frenchman Antoine Hoang
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Zhang Zhizhen, the first Chinese man in the Open era to play at Wimbledon, said he hoped to make the second or third round in the future so it would be easier to find his country's flag on the draw board.

The 24-year-old was speaking after losing to Frenchman Antoine Hoang in a thrilling five-set match 4-6, 7-6 (7/5), 6-7 (5/7), 6-3, 6-2.

It had been 62 years since Chu Chen Hau and Mei Fu Chi competed in The Championships in 1959 before the Open era.

Zhang chose tennis ahead of swimming telling atptour.com he was "so scared" of his swimming coach and he also found studying "boring".

His father Zhang WeiHua was a footballer with Shanghai ShenHua but advised him not to take up that sport.

That decision saw him make history on Tuesday and he had few regrets.

"I am really happy to be the Chinese man here especially this year as it has been a tough year," said Zhang.

"Normally there are two or three Chinese players in qualifying but this year I was the only one.

"I would in the future like to put the Chinese flag on the second or third round drawboard.

"Downstairs there is a wall and I was trying to find my name and to find the China flag but it is quite hard as there are so many countries represented.

"Maybe if I get into the second or third rounds it would be easier to find!"

Zhang twice led in the match but each time his fellow qualifier fought back to level.

Zhang did not have the best of starts with Hoang breaking his first service game but he broke back midway through the first set and drew level at 4-4.

Zhang had built up a head of steam as he settled into the unfamiliar surroundings of a main draw match at Wimbledon and broke Hoang again before sealing the set on his service.

A very tight second set went to a tie-break which Hoang took (7/5) to level the match.

Hoang broke Zhang in the first game of the third set but once again the Chinese player hung in there and broke back for 3-3.

That set also went to a tie-break with Zhang going two sets to one up after winning it 7/5.

Hoang showed little sign of being disheartened and raced into a 3-0 lead in the fourth set before rain forced them off the court.

- 'Only good things' -

Hoang's focus was not affected by several hours off court and he returned to take the match into the deciding set winning the fourth 6-3.

The momentum seemed to have swung inexorably to the Frenchman as he broke early in the fifth to lead 3-1 and then broke Zhang again for 4-1 before sealing a second round clash with Sebastian Korda.

Zhang was gracious in defeat.

"I was quite lucky in the first and third sets," he said.

"Winning the two sets were the only good things in the match.

"How I played I do not think I am better than him and he was playing stronger in the last two sets.

"It was a very good experience playing the five sets."

Zhang was as seemingly relaxed about his defeat as he is off the court.

He said after qualifying that he realises for many non-Chinese people his name is difficult to pronounce so he is easy with being called ZZZ as "I also like to sleep."

However, now he has tasted the unique atmosphere of Wimbledon he wants more.

"It is not for sure the last time I play in the main draw."

pi/dj

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