Luca Zhou is good at hiding his pain. The 18-year-old with the ready smile hasn’t seen his parents in three years – “it’s tough,” he says, “but in life you need to smile.”
Luca, currently ranked world No.15 in the juniors, was born in Italy as his father Zhou You was coach at the Italian national centre; when Luca was nine the family moved back to China. Having returned to play a tournament, Luca and his brother – Italian international Tonni Zhou — were stranded when the pandemic struck. Since then they have had to make do with video calling their parents.
Yet, Luca is thankful for the camaraderie of his teammates and the warmth with which he has been treated. “In Italy all of us players live together and we are like a family. Everybody is very good, so I’m happy,” he says.
“This year I had injury in my right foot, so I couldn’t train for a month. I feel very sad, and it’s very tough, but I’m lucky because a lot of people are with me. In Italy I have two mums. One is my teammate’s mum, and the other is the Vice-President of the federation. So I’m very lucky.”
Training two sessions every day, with four hours of school in the evening, Luca has a packed schedule. He also strings rackets – “about 20 a week” — for teammates so that he can make some money on the side.
The teenager has had good results this year. At the Cyprus Junior (International Series), in April he won the singles and doubles, and made the mixed doubles quarterfinal. He was also doubles runner-up in Turkiye and singles quarterfinalist at the Bulgaria Junior Open and the Alpes International.
“I’m honoured to play for Italy,” Luca says. “My goal is to play well and play consistently. The first goal is to play the 2026 Mediterranean Games for Italy, and then I want to qualify for the 2028 Olympics.”