Bei­jing braced for the best

Shara­pova and Nadal head star-stud­ded China Open cast

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS - By SUN XIAOCHEN sunx­i­aochen@chi­nadaily.com.cn

With fan fa­vorites Maria Shara­pova and Rafael Nadal com­ing to town, the 2017 China Open in Bei­jing is poised to serve up a mouth­wa­ter­ing feast of ten­nis dur­ing the week­long Na­tional Day hol­i­day.

The big­gest com­bined tour­na­ment in Asia swings into main-draw ac­tion at the Na­tional Ten­nis Cen­ter in the north of the cap­i­tal on Satur­day, with a glit­ter­ing cast — fea­tur­ing six cur­rent or for­mer world No 1s and 10 Grand Slam cham­pi­ons — bat­tling for a share of the $9.41 mil­lion prize purse. Both sin­gles fi­nals take place on Oct 8.

In the women’s draw, all eyes will be on five-time ma­jor cham­pion Shara­pova in her first ap­pear­ance at an Asian tour­na­ment since re­turn­ing from a drug sus­pen­sion in April.

The win­ner of the event in 2014, Shara­pova ar­rived in Bei­jing early this week, prac­tic­ing on the NTC’s main Di­a­mond Court on Wed­nes­day, with the Rus­sian watched and cheered by a group of diehard Chi­nese fans clutch­ing posters and copies of her au­to­bi­og­ra­phy.

“When­ever I play in Bei­jing, my ‘SharaFam­ily’ (her fan group) al­ways shows me such great sup­port.

“I will never for­get the last time I won the ti­tle in 2014, and how much they cheered for me on the Di­a­mond Court,” said Shara­pova, who signed au­to­graphs and took a selfie with the fans.

As one of four Women’s Ten­nis As­so­ci­a­tion Pre­mier Manda­tory tour­na­ments, the China Open will be the high­est-level hard-court event Shara­pova has played since com­plet­ing a 15-month dop­ing ban for test­ing pos­i­tive for mel­do­nium, a heart and blood-boost­ing drug, at the 2016 Aus­tralian Open.

The 30-year-old claimed she had taken the medicine for years and didn’t re­al­ize it had been placed on the banned list at the be­gin­ning of last year. She was orig­i­nally is­sued with a two-year sus­pen­sion, which was later re­duced by the Court of Ar­bi­tra­tion for Sport on ap­peal.

Other big names in the women’s event in­clude world No 1 and this year’s Wim­ble­don win­ner Gar­bine Muguruza, for­mer world No 1 Karolina Pliskova and reign­ing US Open cham­pion Sloane Stephens.

Home hopes rest with Wang Qiang, who reached the third round of the Wuhan Open last week, veteran Peng Shuai and ris­ing star Zhang Shuai, who made the third round at both the French and US Opens this year, as well as the Aus­tralian quar­ter­fi­nals last year.

In the men’s event, an ATP 500 tour­na­ment, Span­ish su­per­star Nadal will at­tempt to main­tain his red-hot form after romp­ing to his 16th Grand Slam ti­tle at the US Open last month.

Hop­ing to deny the world No 1 will be the so-called ‘Nex­tGen’ of the men’s game, spear­headed by Ger­man world No 4 Alexan­der Zverev and Bul­gar­ian Grigor Dim­itrov. Mean­while, lo­cal wild­card en­tries such as Wu Di and Zhang Ze will be look­ing to gain valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence in such elite com­pany.

Apart from the star-stud­ded field, the tour­na­ment also boasts up­graded broad­cast cov­er­age, with new vir­tual-re­al­ity feeds pro­vided on a num­ber of stream­ing web­sites to of­fer an unique ex­pe­ri­ence for view­ers.

The tour­na­ment has also im­proved on-site ser­vices for vis­i­tors such as cater­ing, mer­chan­diz­ing and in­ter­ac­tive gam­ing, sup­ported by a to­tal of 43 busi­ness part­ners in­clud­ing air-pu­ri­fier man­u­fac­turer Aer­aMax.

“As the tour­na­ment en­ters its 14th edi­tion, we have set our sights on con­tin­u­ously im­prov­ing not only the com­pe­ti­tion level but the fans’ ex­pe­ri­ence to live up to our rep­u­ta­tion as the high­est-pro­file ten­nis tour­na­ment in Asia,” said Duan Gang, China Open CEO.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Grigor Dim­itrov of Bul­garia, ranked eighth in the world, hits a re­turn dur­ing prac­tice for the China Open at the Na­tional Ten­nis Cen­ter in Bei­jing on Thurs­day.

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