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#NextGen Focus: Zane Khan

Zane Khan vs Lloyd Harris in Antwerp.

American 19-year old Zane Khan has made a significant move up the rankings this year, including a hot streak of winning 14 out of 15 ITF matches, two ITF titles and his best career win at Orlando Challenger. One of his coaches, Christopher Begg, shares insights about the former top ten ITF junior’s progression…

By Christopher Begg

I have known Zane since he was 10-years-old. I met him, his brother Faris (now playing for Duke University), and their uncle/long-time coach, Shariq Khan, whilst spending time as a coach at John Newcombe’s Tennis Academy in New Braunfels, Texas. Over the years, I have travelled and worked at various Academies around the world, and through my friendship with Shariq, remained in regular contact with the family. Sometimes the boys would come and train with us in Spain. In October 2020, I was asked to accompany Zane to the ATP 250 event in Antwerp due to an issue with Shariq’s visa. Zane lost 7-6 6-2 to Lloyd Harris, but put in a promising display. I really enjoyed working with Zane during that week, and was proud of his performance and development. At the end of the week, I wished him luck and assured him that if he continued on his current path, with his current work ethic, he would achieve his goal of being a professional player in due course.

Little did I know at this time that Covid would effectively shut down Europe. In November, I travelled with my group of players from London to compete in tournaments in Turkey, before travelling to the US for some months of winter training. Together with Shariq’s players, we worked hard each day on court and had a lot of fun in the process. Zane competed in the ATP 250 Delray Beach Open, winning one round of qualifying, before losing an extremely close match with Christian Harrison (6-1, 6-7, 7-6) who eventually reached the semi finals of the competition (That week Harrison defeated world no. 22 Christian Garin, 101 Gianluca Mager before losing to eventual champion Hubi Hurkacz 6-7 4-6). Once again, Zane proved that he is capable of playing with serious players. On this occasion though, there was some concern around his on court behaviour and some of the pressure he was feeling.

Around this time, the idea was floated that Zane and I could train together and see how things go in the upcoming tournaments in Naples. He has a fantastic team in place already with former ATP top 5 Sebastian Grosjean, Shariq Khan, and former Chilean Davis Cup player Jose Antonio Fernandez working on his technical tennis game, and Jesse Adarme working on his fitness. We trained for a few days before the first tournament, and had a rather inauspicious start, losing with Pol Toledo 4-6 2-6. However, again, I saw enough in this match to re-affirm my belief that Zane could be a serious player. He out played his opponent for the bulk of the match, but lost the big points. However, rather than lose these points due to bad instinct, I felt he lost these points because he was not relying on his instinct. If there’s one thing I always felt from Zane, it was that for some reason, he is special. Not his game, but him. I knew it when I first met him, and I still feel the same way now. Much of my focus would need to be around him re-discovering, and believing in his own qualities, and the quality of his decision-making.

After finishing in Naples, we decided to fly to India for Futures competitions as we felt the surface could suit Zane’s game. In each tournament, he had to do it the hard way. Beating several players that have won at Futures level, including many Indian players that were used to the conditions, Zane demonstrated great competitiveness throughout the tournaments. In the end, Zane finished with three trophies, two as champion, and one as runner up. The third week might have been even more impressive than the other two, because in the week that Zane finished runner up, he was suffering from a very aggressive flu. As challenging as that was, we were just pleased that it was not Covid-19, and Zane felt fortunate to be able to continue competing.

At the Orlando Challenger, Zane was able to score his biggest win 7-6 7-6 against former top 100 (and current 108) Yasutaka Uchiyama, and play three disciplined matches, reaching the quarterfinal stage. It was great for him to play against (eventual champion) Jenson Brooksby because Zane learned that he could hang with him, but that momentum is so important in this game, and Brooksby rode it at the right moments and Zane maybe gave it away a little when it was riding in his favour (Brooksby won 6-4 6-3). But this is part of the process, and Zane did himself proud by competing until the final point. After working together now for just over two months, Zane has jumped approximately 300 places in the ATP rankings. At the time of writing, Zane is ranked 546 in the world.

In general, our focus with Zane now is to improve his variety of serves, especially his second serve. He has great ability on this shot, but for the future his serve will need to continue to evolve. I would also like to enhance the use of different spins and paces on his shots. He will always be a power player, but sometimes I feel it will be necessary to improve his assisting and opening balls to allow his power to inflict maximum damage. He will need to also learn how to position himself correctly, understanding the likely consequence of his shot selection. At the higher levels, this court positioning is crucial. Fortunately, Zane naturally has very good anticipation and instinct. Finally, we will attempt to continue to strengthen his mental skills. Zane is an extremely tough person, and someone who I have great respect and admiration for. With him, there is no need to make him more mentally tough, and there’s no need to improve his discipline off the court, because he is already an extremely tough and disciplined person. But we must strengthen and help him understand the importance of acquiring certain mental skills, and employing these mental muscles in a disciplined way when competing.

I believe this is the beginning of a career of an American athlete that the US can be proud of. I am not saying that Zane will achieve incredible heights in the game, who knows, mostly that will be up to him and his hard work. But I do believe that Zane will get the best out of himself, whatever that may be. And that is someone we can all admire and be proud of.

About the Author: Chris Begg is a former coach of the Rafa Nadal Academy, Sanchez-Casal Academy, and the John Newcombe Tennis Academy. Chris is also currently an official agent for the Rafa Nadal Academy. He is qualified in three different countries and is a member of the RPT, GPTCA and LTA.

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