It will be an all-Chinese final at the 2019 Shenzhen Challenger, with Zhang Zhizhen set to take on Li Zhe in the championship match. But who will clinch the title on Sunday?
Shenzhen Challenger Final Prediction
Zhang Zhizhen vs Li Zhe
Head-to-head: Zhang 3-2 Li
Despite the 10 year age difference between the two, they have played each other five times in the past fourteen months with Zhang leading the head-to-head 3-2. He also won their most recent match this June in Columbus. And it is the 23-year-old who has been playing the better tennis of late. After winning his first Challenger Tour Title in Jinan last month, Zhang received wildcards to ATP events in Zhuhai, Beijing and Shanghai.
He took advantage, picking up a win over Dominik Koepfer in Zhuhai, but lost narrowly to Andreas Seppi in the second round, despite having five match points. However, he recovered from that disappointment quickly, beating former-Australian Open semifinalist Kyle Edmund at the China Open, before bowing out at the hands of eventual champion Dominic Thiem. He wasn’t able to claim a third win in Shanghai, losing in the first round to Hubert Hurkacz.
Zhang has been the most impressive performer in Shenzhen so far. The eighth seed opened his campaign by hammering Goncalo Oliveira 6-0 6-1. He then benefited from the second-set retirement of Borna Gojo, before edging out Japan’s Go Soeda, 7-6 6-4, in the quarterfinals. Zhang benefitted from another retirement in the semifinals, with Federico Ferreira Silva retiring trailing 1-6 1-4 to send Zhang into the final.
Li also received a slew of wildcards during the Asian swing, playing in Chengdu, Beijing and Shanghai. But he lost first-round at all three tour-level events. Indeed, the 33-year-old arrived at last week’s Liuzhou Open having lost his last six matches. But he rediscovered some form there, reaching the quarterfinals and he has maintained that momentum at the Shenzhen Challenger, beating Nam Ji-sung, seventh seed Malek Jaziri, who retired 0-5 down in the decider, and ninth seed Enrique Lopez Perez to reach the quarterfinals.
There he faced Russia’s Roman Safiullin. He looked to be down amongst the dead men when Safiullin went up a double break in the third. But Li dug deep, somehow rallying to claim a 6-7 6-1 7-5 win and a spot in the semifinals, where he faced Mohamed Safwat. The Egyptian had played some fine tennis in Shenzhen but could not lay a glove on Li. The Chinese dominated throughout and deservedly scored a 6-4 6-2 win to reach the final.
It will be Li’s second Challenger Tour final. Two years ago in Bangkok, the Chinese was beaten in straight-sets by one-time world #8 Janko Tipsarevic. And at this late stage of his career, Li may well feel that this is his last chance to clinch a Challenger title. Zhang, in contrast, is still in the early part of his career. He has enjoyed a breakthrough year and has proved he can keep up with the world’s best. Zhang has been winning in dominant fashion all week and expect a similar outcome here.
Pick: Zhang in 2
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