So, it’s the sixth day of the 12 Days of Challenger Tennis Christmas, and it’s only just now starting to occur to me that deciding to do two “Player To Watch” profiles per day over the holiday season wasn’t the smartest idea I’ve ever had. But I’m determined to follow through with it, even though I’m now stuffed with Christmas cookies and on the brink of passing out. I’ve already hedged my bets by reducing my responsibilities to a more manageable one-a-day profile schedule the past couple of days. But normal service should resume tomorrow, with a pair of profiles to fill up your newly-emptied Christmas stockings.

Now, you know what would really help me get these profiles done? If I were to shut up with my stupid introductory paragraphs and actually start, you know, writing the profile – that’s what!

So. Without further adon’t.  Today’s victim esteemed honoree is…  Tsung-Hua Yang of Taiwan!

That’s right! This power baseliner with the booming serve is a former #1 world junior who in 2008 made the boys final at the Australian Open (losing to Bernard Tomic), then won the Roland Garros boys singles title (beating Jerzy Janowicz in the final)…

…won the Wimbledon boys doubles title (with Cheng-Peng Hsieh and getting some revenge over Tomic in the final 6-4 2-6 12-10)…

…and then made the semis of the junior US Open tournament, losing to Grigor Dimitrov. Not a bad year, as junior Slam results go, no? In addition to all of that, just before that year’s USO, Yang made a run all the way into the semifinals of the New Delhi Challenger, an amazing feat for a junior. Thus, in the middle of August 2008, Tsung-Hua concurrently carried a ranking of #1 in the juniors and #470 in the pros – a tremendous accomplishment.

Alas, after that initial splash, things haven’t all gone Tsung-Hua Yang’s way – reminiscent, on a smaller scale, of what happened to Dimitrov after his junior slam success and his big Berdych-beating burst into the pros, taking Nadal to 3 sets, etc. before ultimately struggling on the pro tour for a while. In 2009, Yang put up a very respectable 42/22 W/L record, but most of his wins came on the Futures tour and his ranking only edged upward to #342 by the end of the year.

The new year started auspiciously for young man, though, as he made it through qualies at the Chennai ATP 250 before losing to Robin Haase 4-6 3-6 in the main draw. At the end of January, he put together a nice four-win run in Honolulu, straight-setting his way through qualifying and beating players like Filip Krajinovic and Jesse Levine before succumbing in R2 to Lester Cook.

I had the pleasure of watching Yang play the now-mysteriously-Swedish Nick Lindahl in the final qualifying round of the Delray Beach 250 in February. Here are some of the embarrassing notes I wrote down for that match:

“This sucks. Marinko Matosevic just came in on the first change to root for his buddy Lindahl. He’s sitting next to me but I’m rooting for Yang. Yang is super-impressive from the baseline. Getting the best of Lindy in almost all rallies. Nick’s serve keeping him afloat so far. Two df’s and 2 errors from lindy + two spectacular returns from the former #1 junior = Yang breaks to take the first set 6-4.

“Total role reversal in Set 2. Now Yang’s shots are wild while Lindy hitting w more power and control. Nick up a double break 4-1… Lindahl takes the 2nd set 6-2. If the Yang from the 1st set and the lindy from this set both show up in the 3rd, it will be a great match. Santiago Giraldo just sat right next to me on top bleacher faced in other direction to watch fellow Colombian Salamanca behind me.”

And my notes for that match pretty much end there. I see that Lindahl went on to win quite easily from there, but that’s only when I look up the score. Thank goodness I take notes, because I seriously don’t remember any of that. Actually, I do remember Santi sitting next to me, but that’s it.

So what did we learn from my notes? Not a hell of a lot, I’d say. Other than the fact I was there and for some reason rooting for Yang (probably to piss off my friends, who were all Lindahl fans at the time). So, clearly Yang left a big impression on me, yeah? Do you think I’m not doing enough by making him a “Player To Watch” this year and also need to make him a “Player To Remember” as well? Maybe so.

Anyway, it was all downhill after that Lindyloss. Poor Yang flew off to get thoroughly dismantled by his old pal Burny Tomic in Davis Cup. Though Tsung-Hua did win a pretty weak Futures in Malaysia in June, he somewhat unimpressively finished at a 29/23 pace, and further slowed his once-rapid ascent. Yang’s final 2010 record of 37/26 saw his ranking barely up another 38 spots to #304, where he is now.

So why am I making him a 2011 Player to Watch then?  Good question, sharp reader!  A few reasons. The first is that I have a vague notion of being impressed by his game when I saw him in Delray, even if my notes don’t attest to that fact. Secondly, some of his losses at the end of this year have been good losses – to the extent that one believes in such things. I mean, 6-7(5) 3-6 to John Isner in Beijing and 4-6 6-7(5) to Jurgen Melzer in Shanghai? These are not results that should be particularly upsetting to Yang; if anything, he should be heartened that he stayed close with two Top 20 players.

Also, Yang enjoyed important wins at the Asian Games (which doesn’t show up on your stat sheets), winning mixed doubles gold medals with partner Yung-Jan Chan over Sania Mirza and Vishnu Vardhan and taking silver in singles (losing to Denis Istomin) in late November. So his year actually didn’t end that poorly at all. 

And, last but not least, he’s got a regularly updated blog! And it’s always more fun doing ones Player To Watching when the player in question has a blog, no? He’s now working with Guga Kuerten’s old coach, and there’s a nice pic of Yang with Guga and Andre Agassi on his blog page if you’re interested.

So even though he didn’t make much forward progress this past year, it’s not like one lost year on the tour is going to permamently damage the prospects of one who’s already been so successful at such a young age. Now 19 years old (and 9 months), Yang is still is the fifth-youngest player in in the Top 304 (yeah, I had to bend that stat a bit to make it work, I admit. But it’s still true!). And there are promising signs here and there. Therefore, I believe 2011 might finally be his breakout year. 

Oh, and his first tournament of 2011?  Why, it’s none other than the Brazil F1 I so expertly previewed right hereI sure hope he blogs a lot about it; it’ll make my job covering the event a hell of a lot easier.  Help me, Tsung-Hua!

Hey, have some videos; you must be exhausted from all my profiling! This first one’s a nice little palate cleanser, a quaint little Wimblevid that was supposed to mark a seamless transition between yesterday’s Henri Kontinen profile and this one, back when I planned on doing both together. Since, you know, they’re both in it:

And, I don’t know about you, but I get a lot of enjoyment from this next vid. Even though it’s an eventual loss to Junn Mitsuhashi in the final of last year’s Japan F8 in October, I just love the tranquil setting, the respectful hush from the crowd and then the appreciative “Ohhhh” that happens whenever Yang smacks a huge serve or forehand. It’s kinda like Wimbledon – if it were played in rural Japan on hard courts, that is:

So that’s all for today. My Challenger Tennis 12 Days of Christmas profiles are halfway done with (thank god). So far we’ve had players from Russia, Belgium, USA, the Netherlands, England, France, Finland and Taiwan. Hmm. It’s about time to have some South American representation, don’t you think? Luckily my list is full of possibilities. Hopefully I’ll be back to two-a-days tomorrow. In the meantime, I hope you’re continuing to enjoy your holidays!