Shang­hai Rolex Mas­ters rides new en­thu­si­asm for ten­nis

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - By ZHANG KUN in Shang­hai

zhangkun@chi­nadaily.com.cn

The pro­fes­sional ten­nis tour­na­ment has sig­nif­i­cantly ac­cel­er­ated the pop­u­lar­ity of the sport of ten­nis among the public in Shang­hai.

Ten­nis seems to have de­vel­oped in China faster than vir­tu­ally any­where else on the global scene, said Li Yao, vicedi­rec­tor of the Shang­hai Ten­nis As­so­ci­a­tion.

Ev­ery year be­tween Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber, the world’s top play­ers fly to Asia for the China Open tour­na­ment in Bei­jing or the Tokyo Open in Ja­pan, be­fore meet­ing up in Shang­hai for the cli­max of the Asian ten­nis sea­son, at the Shang­hai Rolex Mas­ters.

The Shang­hai Rolex Mas­ters is chrono­log­i­cally the eighth out of nine ATP World Tour Mas­ters 1000 tour­na­ments on the As­so­ci­a­tion of Ten­nis Pro­fes­sion­als (ATP) World Tour sea­son, and is the only one played out­side of Europe and North Amer­ica.

For five years in a row, from 2009 to 2013, the Shang­hai Rolex Mas­ters was named the best tour­na­ment by vot­ing of the ath­letes. “Our am­bi­tion now is to win the ti­tle back,” said Pa­trick Yang, the vice­gen­eral man­ager of Shang­hai Juss Event Man­age­ment Co, Ltd, the tour­na­ment or­ga­nizer.

Shang­hai hosted the first in­ter­na­tional pro­fes­sional ten­nis tour­na­ment in China in 1998. It was a bold move for Juss, a new com­pany ded­i­cated to ten­nis games, which paid the hand­some amount of $1.25 mil­lion for the right to host the Heineken Open, a 250-pointranked tour­na­ment. “Shang­hai had no more than 10,000 ten­nis play­ers at that time,” Yang said. “But a con­sumers’ sur­vey showed that ten­nis was the first choice that sports en­thu­si­asts were ready to take up.”

Star ath­letes of the time, such as An­dre Agassi and Michael Chang, all played the Heineken Open in Shang­hai.

The suc­cess en­cour­aged Juss to host the ATP fi­nal of 2002, when the eight top-rank­ing ath­letes com­peted in Shang­hai.

It was also the time when Shang­hai ap­plied to host the World Expo 2010, and the tour­na­ment suc­cess­fully drew lots of pos­i­tive at­ten­tion for the city.

Shang­hai went on to hold the ATP fi­nal from 2005 to 2008. Public in­ter­est in the game grew sig­nif­i­cantly dur­ing this time. A sur­vey in 2005 showed that 540,000 peo­ple were play­ing ten­nis regularly in Shang­hai, Yang said. “In 2012, the num­ber grew to nearly 1 mil­lion.”

The Shang­hai Rolex Mas­ters started in 2009. “We are still the one and only ATP Mas­ters 1000 tour­na­ment in Asia,” Yang said. “Ev­ery year the Asian leg of the ATP world tour con­sists of three tour­na­ments: both the China Open in Bei­jing and the Tokyo Open are ATP World Tour 500 se­ries, and Shang­hai is a Mas­ters 1000 event.” There are al­to­gether nine tour­na­ments in the Mas­ters 1000 se­ries around the world ev­ery year. They are the sec­ond­most im­por­tant ten­nis events be­hind the four Grand Slam tour­na­ments.

The China Open in Bei­jing has grown rapidly in the past few years, mainly be­cause of its im­por­tance in the women’s tour­na­ment, es­pe­cially as China has pro­duced a few highly suc­cess­ful women play­ers.

“Stars play such an im­por­tant role in the pro­mo­tion of ten­nis,” Li said. When­ever Li Na, the first Chi­nese woman ten­nis player to win a Grand Slam, played in a tour­na­ment, the TV rat­ings would surge.

“In the short pe­riod af­ter Li Na’s re­tire­ment, the public in­ter­est for ten­nis in China surely has cooled down a lit­tle bit,” Yang said. “But in the long run, the trend is still go­ing strong.”

Pro­fes­sional ten­nis is a new thing in China. Tra­di­tion­ally, ath­letes in China are se­lected at a very young age and start sys­tem­atic train­ing in sports schools. The fund­ing is com­pletely spon­sored by the state, and known as the na­tional strat­egy in train­ing top ath­letes and Olympic cham­pi­ons. Now with the sport’s strong mar­ket­ing de­vel­op­ment here, cor­po­ra­tions are be­gin­ning to in­vest in ten­nis train­ing.

Shang­hai’s mu­nic­i­pal pro­fes­sional ten­nis team was founded in this con­text, and has about 30 play­ers now. Wu Di, the most ac­claimed of them, has won sev­eral na­tional cham­pi­onships and is com­pet­ing in in­ter­na­tional tour­na­ments now.

Half of the univer­si­ties and col­leges in Shang­hai have ten­nis clubs or pro­vide ten­nis class in their sports cur­ricu­lum, Li said. Ev­ery year hun­dreds of ten­nis tour­na­ments take place all over the coun­try.

Many par­ents in China, inspired by Li Na, have led their chil­dren to be­gin train­ing in ten­nis. The In­ter­net has also played an im­por­tant part, bring­ing to­gether peo­ple of the same in­ter­est. “There are no less than 100 ten­nis clubs in Shang­hai, and the most pop­u­lar of them have up to 1,000 mem­bers,” Li said.

The pop­u­lar­ity of ten­nis doesn’t im­me­di­ately lead to good per­for­mance on the pro­fes­sional ten­nis court. “We still have a long way to catch up: our man­age­ment sys­tem, coaches train­ing, and na­tional tour­na­ments…all need to im­prove, and these are the frame­work that guar­an­tees the pro­duc­tion of good ath­letes,” Li said.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

The Shang­hai Rolex Mas­ters has at­tracted top ten­nis play­ers ev­ery year as well as an in­creas­ing num­ber of lo­cal ten­nis fans.

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