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Although he’s only 18, Michael Zheng’s tennis journey has already taken him to Wimbledon, the US Open, and the UTR Pro Tennis Tour. But it all began because his raw talent happened to catch the eye of a local coach.
When Zheng was six years old, his father started regularly taking him and his little sister to hit balls at a nearby high school in New Jersey. One day, a local coach spotted Michael’s strokes, and told his father that his kid had talent. “Then all of a sudden, we just got into the sport,” Zheng told Universal Tennis.
More than a decade later, Zheng (UTR 13.82) has proven that coach right again and again. At Wimbledon earlier this year, he reached the boys’ singles final unseeded, falling in two tiebreaker sets to the No. 5-ranked junior in the world, Mili Poljicak (UTR 13.67). At the junior US Open, Zheng would reach the third round.
Before he played at the biggest tournaments in the game, Zheng honed his craft on the UTR Pro Tennis Tour (PTT), a series of global events that’s growing in popularity for players who are aspiring pros.
The PTT began in January 2021 with a three-year investment of $20 million (USD) and tournaments taking place in 15 countries. In 2023, that number will expand to 23 host nations with events surpassing 400.
In March 2021, Zheng reached the semifinals of the $25K PTT event in Naples, Florida, and he followed that in December 2021 with another semifinal showing at the $25K PTT event in New York. At both events, Zheng went 3-1 in his round-robin matches before falling to the eventual champion in the semifinals.
As a player who’s very much still developing his game, Zheng especially appreciated the guaranteed four matches that all PTT events offer players, in addition to the guaranteed prize money.
“Getting four or five matches guaranteed is great. It’s one of the most important things for developing players,” Zheng said.
In August, he enrolled at Columbia University in New York. Playing for one of the top programs in the U.S., Zheng has been putting his experience to good use as he won the consolation title at the ITA National Fall Championships last month.
He plans to keep playing pro tournaments while attending Columbia and preparing for an eventual stint on the ATP Tour.
“It was just one of the best combinations of athletics and academics,” Zheng said of Columbia. “I knew a lot of the guys that were interested and the guys they recruited, as well as some of the players on the team. I had a good relationship with the coach when they first started reaching out, and I just thought they had a great culture.”
Learn More About the PTT
The PTT is open to players with a UTR Ranking of 200-2000, and wild cards can be awarded to those players with a UTR Ranking of 1-199 or above 2000. Every PTT event creates matchplay opportunities for up-and-coming, collegiate, and pro players thanks to a unique round-robin format. At every event, a group round-robin stage is followed by a World Cup-style playoff, guaranteeing multiple matches and counting all results towards the UTR Rating, the most accurate rating system in tennis. Every PTT event offers 4-5 matches and a minimum of $20,000 in prize money with an earnings guarantee for every participant.
For more information about UTR PTT and to see all of the results, click here.