Just weeks after Michael Zheng’s graduation from Dwight Global, he reached the pinnacle achievement of his life so far: playing in the finals of the Boys’ singles championship match at Wimbledon. Though not yet officially a student at Columbia University, where he’ll head this fall, he’d already made the school's headlines for his run at Wimbledon: “Go Lions! Keep going, Michael!” cheered a Columbia Men’s Tennis tweet.
Arriving Unseeded, Leaving a Finalist
During his rise to the championship match at the All England Club, Zheng, of Montville, New Jersey, faced familiar faces. In the third round, he played his previous doubles partner, Aidan Kim; he then defeated his Wimbledon doubles partner, Coleman Wong, in the quarter-finals. His match of the tournament, however, came in the semis when the unseeded Zheng upset the No. 10 seed, Martin Landaluce of Spain, breaking his opponent’s 15-match winning streak. He showed his fierce resolve, saving three break points and besting the higher seed by taking the win in a third set tie-break. During the two-hour and 35-minute match, Zheng finished with 28 winners and 25 unforced errors, his best performance to date. Ultimately, he lost the championship to Croatia's Mili Poljicak, in a narrow loss of two sets, which were both decided in a tiebreak. Zheng reflects on the magnitude of his overall performance: “My favorite part of my tennis career would be making the finals of Wimbledon and playing in front of such a large crowd with friends and family supporting me in person and back home.”
Giving Thanks, Cultivating Calm, and Asking For Help
Zheng consistently shows a gracious awareness of the community that has helped him arrive in exceptional places like the finals of Wimbledon. In particular, he is deeply grateful to his father, who inspired his tennis journey at age six and to his mother, who he says has especially been a big help off the court. He’s also eager to mention the coaches and friends he believes have made him who he is today.
Zheng’s acknowledgement of his team’s influence is consistent with the importance he places on character. When speaking of tennis stars including Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, he emphasizes that his respect for these champions extends beyond their game: “I admire the way they play, but more importantly the way they conduct themselves on the tennis court.” As he considers the alchemy necessary for his own success in tennis, Zheng reflects on his own on-court demeanor. In addition to his forehand and speed, he believes his sense of calm contributes to his wins. He cultivates strategies to regain his titanium-steady center amid the swirling intensity of competition: “I think routines are very important to help remain calm in pressure situations. Going to the towel, taking a couple deep breaths, and slowing things down are all things I’ve found helpful to deal with negativity and uncertainty.”
The new graduate and tennis champ also expresses gratitude for the role Dwight Global played in his ascent. He describes the atmosphere as “eye-opening,” and credits his counselors and teachers for helping him balance the rigors of his tennis schedule with his academic responsibilities, explaining that they "were very supportive and understanding of when I needed to miss class and helped me get back on track if I fell behind.” Zheng says he truly enjoyed all of his classes, especially the atmosphere and range of topics in Angela Rice’s AP English Literature class. Throughout the school year, Rice noticed Zheng’s nimble transition from the court to the classroom. She shares, “He would sometimes have to join class from a tournament, after having just come off the court, but he always followed closely along with discussion and offered insightful observations about the text.” Zheng calls upon current and future Dwight Global students to be courageous–specifically about asking for support. He advises, “If you need help with a certain class or are falling behind, don’t be afraid to reach out to your teacher to ask for help; the vast majority of the time they are more than willing to help you.”
Moving from Dwight Global Lion to a Columbia Lion
Looking forward, Zheng plans to major in either political science or economics at Columbia. And, in addition to working toward his goal of winning a Grand Slam, Zheng is eager to “inspire other up and coming players to pick up a racket and to give the sport a try.” Indeed, the 18-year-old has already inspired many–not only for his skill with a racket but also for how he moves through life.
Vice-Chancellor Dr. Blake Spahn, a Columbia graduate and captain of the undefeated Men’s Tennis Ivy League championship team, believes Zheng will thrive at his alma mater: "Michael could not have made a better decision than his choice of Columbia University. He is attending a program with the best coach in college tennis today. Howie Endelman [head coach of men’s tennis] will ensure that Michael leaves Columbia not only prepared to win a Grand Slam but also to be an even bigger success in his life after tennis."
The Dwight Global community, Zheng’s first family of lions, joins his future one at Columbia and cheers: “Keep going, Michael!”
Photos by Paul Ballard.