History makers – China and Croatia juniors set the pace

It’s not often that two 16 year olds can claim a place in tennis history, but that is what happened just last week, when Juncheng Shang and Petra Marcinko ended the 2021 ITF Junior circuit as World No.1s, the first time two players from China and Croatia have achieved such status.

The most important title for me was at JA Criciuma in Brazil, where my physical condition wasn’t 100%, but during the tournament I learned how to win matches in a shorter amount of time. I’ve learned so much this year Juncheng Shang

It’s not often that two 16 year olds can claim a place in tennis history, but that is what happened just last week, when Juncheng Shang and Petra Marcinko ended the 2021 ITF Junior circuit as World No.1s, the first time two players from China and Croatia have achieved such status.

Shang, who was born of a sporting family (his mother played table tennis and his dad, who he travels with, was a footballer) in Beijing, began the year well, winning three events by the end of April, including the prized JA Criciuma in Brazil in March.
He went on to win the J1 Salinas and JB1 San Diego events, a run of success which elevated him to the World No 1 ranking in July.

In September and October, in the space of just five weeks, he went on to test himself at professional level in three US hard court events, M15 Fayetteville, M15 Naples and M15 Vero Beach, remarkably winning all three.

Success in the junior Grand Slam events throughout the year proved elusive but he did reach the quarter-finals at Roland Garros, the last-four at Wimbledon as well as the final at the US Open, losing to the Spaniard, Daniel Rincon.

Despite his success Shang, who is known on Tour as ‘Jerry’, acknowledges that his time on South American clay at the beginning of the year was significant in his subsequent success.

“I was very grateful to play the South America tournaments at the beginning of the year because it was so hard for all the players to play tournaments in 2020. It was great to get some matches and have the chance to compete. The most important title for me was at JA Criciuma in Brazil, where my physical condition wasn’t 100%, but during the tournament I learned how to win matches in a shorter amount of time. I’ve learned so much this year.”

Much of that learning has come from former pro, Jimmy Arias, who reached No 5 in the world back in the 1980s. He now heads up the IMG Academy in Florida, where Shang trains.

“Jerry’s game is based around being a shot maker, incredibly fast and solid all around,” says Arias. “Jerry has amazing feel and can get out of difficult positions with ease. He is able to transition well from defence into offence. He is successfully transitioning from junior tennis into the pro tour on path to a career full of achievements.”


Petra Marcink, Junior World No.1

ITF

Marcinko, on the other hand, has a different court presence. A strong forehand and a tactical nous allows her to pace her game to the opponent and conditions and so far, it has paid huge dividends.

She left her charge up the junior world rankings late, gaining nine places in an autumn which saw her victorious in two A grade tournaments, the prestigious end of season Orange Bowl Championships in Florida (where she also won the doubles) and the JA Cape Town event in October.

She had also won four other events, but it was the Orange Bowl event, where she defeated two of her contenders, Linda Fruhvirtova and Diana Shnaider which secured her an uplift in the rankings from 9, to 1.

Like Shang, Marcinko didn’t win a Grand Slam Junior event in 2021, her best showing being a quarter-final finish at September’s US Open Junior Tennis Championships.

With her focus clearly on her tennis, the Zagreb born teenager wasn’t even aware that she had become a Croatian history maker.
“I didn’t know that I am the first Croatian junior player to be an ITF World Champion,” she explained. “Wow, that makes me even more proud. Of course, it brings more expectation and responsibility, but I think I will be able to handle it in future. I believe in hard work and that hard work always pays off.”

Marcinko certainly exhibits surprise that she has achieved so much but she relishes the challenges ahead.

“My team and I don’t make specific plans about ranking achievements, so the plan for 2021 in my head was to be a top 10 junior and get some experience from ITF professional tournaments. It has been a great and unforgettable year for me. This is above my expectations, and I feel really happy and proud of what my team and I have done this year. I want to thank every member of my team and of course my family, without them this would be impossible. The main goal now is to work hard and improve my game. How far it will take me, we will see.”

Both players have a solid future ahead of them – note their names for 2022 – not least because they have a rounded approach to life.

As Shang says, “I’ve learned so much this year but tennis is not the most important thing. I think it’s more important to be a better person, a more professional athlete, and be disciplined to do all the things off court.”

With that attitude, the future looks good for this Chinese/Croatian duo, not to mention their respective country’s prospects going forward.





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