SPORTS

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May 29, 2009

Zhang wins two to finish in top eight

Will Zhang’s time at the NCAAs might have ended on a down note, but at least he hung around long enough to be counted among the top few players in the country.Zhang, a second-year, won his first- and second-round matches at the D-III Singles Championship in Claremont, CA, this last weekend before being eliminated in the quarterfinals by the top-seeded player. And by winning his opening match, Zhang locked up an All-American title.Zhang played the first-round match Friday morning against Chris Goodwin, the sixth seed from Emory.Goodwin, a first-year, was “probably the best recruit in the country,” Zhang said.But no matter—Zhang beat him 7–5, 6–3.In the first set, Goodwin was leading 5–3 before Zhang turned it around.“I just tightened it up, and started playing more consistently,” Zhang said. That change in play not only turned around the first set for Zhang, but also helped him take a convincing win in the second set.Later that afternoon, in his second-round match, Zhang played unseeded Nick Lebedoff of Williams and notched a 6–2, 6–7, 6–2 win.“I started off pretty well,” he said, “but got pretty beat in the second set—I choked a bit.”Zhang was able to come back in the third set, however, and his victory secured a spot in the quarterfinals on Saturday.Playing so many matches in a short stretch was tough, Zhang said, but added that “it was nothing new, it was stuff I was used to throughout the season.”He played the number-one seed from Gustavus Adolphus, John Knauss, in the quarterfinals and lost 5–7, 2–6.“I had watched him play a bit [before],” Zhang said, “and I definitely knew he was beatable.”The two were tied in the first set at five apiece before Knauss pulled ahead.“I lost two big games, and that pretty much cost me,” Zhang said. “In the second set, [Knauss] started gliding—moving around the court—better, and I couldn’t keep up,” he continued.Even though he was eliminated after the third round, Zhang said that it was a great experience, and he was excited to have it after just missing out on Nationals last year.He credits his training regimen with his improved success.“The weight training part of getting stronger really helped me with some parts of my game—it helped me out on being able to do some things with the serve and volley that I couldn’t do before,” he said. “Maybe also being more relaxed on the court helped, too,” he continued. “Assistant coach Jeff White really helped me with the psychological aspect. His previous experience on the court helped me deal with some of the bigger moments playing the seed first round.“Overall, I had a pretty consistent season and didn’t really lose that many matches.”Zhang finished the year with a 18–9 record, and he was the first men’s tennis player from Chicago to become an All-American since 2005.“I definitely hope to qualify again next year,” Zhang said, “and maybe even do better and make it to the finals.”