CaliCAMPUS: Meet UCSD’s Justin Zhang

On one side of the court was Goliath, the hard hitting John Isner, a nearly 7-foot American with a famously blistering serve and impressive power game. He dwarfed his opponent, David Ferrer, the  5’9” Spaniard across the net. And like his namesake in the classic ‘David vs. Goliath’ scenario, Ferrer held up his end of the bargain. In doing so, he inspired a young jujitsu prodigy in Irvine, CA to do the same.

Today, Justin Zhang uses tennis as a mental exercise, ignoring the limitations of his Ferrer-like frame and instead focusing on an cerebral approach where size matters less than mental toughness. Deducing weaknesses in his opponents and winding up big groundstrokes, Zhang remembers how Ferrer overcame the imposing Isner in similar fashion, using that as motivation and inspiration. “There’s no excuse for me,” he says.

Like many players, Zhang picked up the game from his parents (“My mom is really good,” he says), who were always keeping an watchful eye on their young athlete. “They would watch my coaching sessions,” Zhang says, “and learn off the practices. They’d tell me things (in my game) that I couldn’t see for myself.”

Perhaps the most crucial lesson he’s learned from the game are the life skills that come with it. “Tennis is a respectful sport,” Zhang says, with “self-improving values.” He’ll no doubt bring those values off the court, when tennis becomes secondary to a budding career in human biology. But for now, he’s content to lay it all on the court.

“I’m going to pour out everything,” the junior says of his final years on the tennis courts at UCSD. “I will have no regrets after graduation.”

The Tritons return to San Diego on Friday, February 24 opposite Holy Names at 3pm. Visit their website here.

Image: UCSD Athletics

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