Still plenty to cheer about

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - Holiday - By SUN XIAOCHEN sunx­i­aochen@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

Even with a string of with­drawals dulling some of tour­na­ment’s lus­ter, the ap­peal of the China Open for the world’s elite play­ers un­der­lines the growth of ten­nis here.

Asia’s largest men’s and women’s com­bined tour­na­ment kicked off its main draw at the Na­tional Ten­nis Cen­ter in Beijing on the week­end, but in­juries and fa­tigue at the end of a long sea­son ac­counted for some high-pro­file ab­sences from what was sup­posed to be a glit­ter­ing cast.

Among the miss­ing on the women’s side are 23-time Grand Slam win­ner Ser­ena Wil­liams and Rus­sian star Maria Shara­pova, while the late with­drawals of Andy Mur­ray and world No 1 Rafael Nadal tightened the men’s ranks.

Still, vis­i­tors swarmed to the NTC on Sun­day to en­joy not just the games, but a va­ri­ety of car­ni­val events ahead of the Na­tional Day hol­i­days.

“It’s true that the field is not as strong as last year, but late-sea­son with­drawals hap­pen ev­ery­where in the world,” said China Open tour­na­ment di­rec­tor Al­fred Zhang.

“The com­pe­ti­tion is not the only rea­son why fans come to en­joy them­selves here. It’s part of their hol­i­day rou­tine to come to our event to spend some qual­ity time with fam­ily and friends.”

Es­tab­lished in 2004, the China Open women’s tour­na­ment was up­graded to one of four WTA crown jewel events in 2009 and has since at­tracted the world’s top 50 to com­pete for the win­ner’s 1000 rank­ing points and the lion’s share of $7.64 mil­lion.

“Of course it’s a big tour­na­ment … but on the other side it’s a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent world from my coun­try. Ten­nis is a com­pletely new tra­di­tion here,” Ger­man world No 3 An­gelique Ker­ber said be­fore her open­ing match against Kristina Mlade­n­ovic of France on Sun­day.

“It’s al­ways great com­ing back to China, es­pe­cially Beijing, where you can see a lot of new things be­sides ten­nis,” said the 30-year-old lefty, who needed just 72 min­utes to thrash Mlade­n­ovic 6-2, 6-2.

With the sea­son-end­ing WTA Cham­pi­onships im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing the China Open, some young and am­bi­tious stars have em­braced the Beijing event as their last chance to qual­ify for the Sin­ga­pore show­case.

Czech ace Karolina Pliskova said the rank­ing points and fat purse in Beijing pro­vide a strong in­cen­tive.

“At this time of the sea­son it’s tough for ev­ery­body to fly a long way to Asia,” said the 26-year-old world No 7. “But it’s the last big one of the sea­son and ob­vi­ously we all need the points for Sin­ga­pore. Know­ing there are no more tour­na­ments com­ing up, you can put ev­ery­thing into it and en­joy a lit­tle bit more ten­nis.”

In the ab­sence of Mur­ray, Nadal, Roger Fed­erer and No­vak Djokovic, 2009 US Open cham­pion Juan Martin del Potro has been pegged atop the men’s 32-seed main draw.

The Ar­gen­tine and Chi­nese women’s player Zhang Shuai en­ter­tained a group of chil­dren at a char­ity clinic on Satur­day, where he re­ceived a warm wel­come from fans ahead of his sec­ond ap­pear­ance in Beijing.

Although ham­pered by nag­ging in­juries to both wrists from 2014-16, the bigserv­ing del Potro en­joys huge pop­u­lar­ity in China.

“I’m here liv­ing prob­a­bly the best mo­ments of my ca­reer,” said the 29-year-old, who has climbed to No 4 after drop­ping out of the world’s top 1000 in early 2016. “The peo­ple are so happy to watch me play­ing ten­nis again, and that’s what I love.”

To make the Beijing ex­pe­ri­ence spe­cial off the court, China Open or­ga­niz­ers took Ger­man sec­ond seed Alexan­der Zverev and dou­bles spe­cial­ist Marcelo Melo of Brazil to down­town Di­tan Park on Fri­day morn­ing to ex­pe­ri­ence the ex­er­cise rou­tine of lo­cal res­i­dents.

Zverev, last year’s semi­fi­nal­ist in Beijing, said learn­ing some tra­di­tional Chi­nese tai chi moves from a lo­cal prac­ti­tioner was a ter­rific ex­pe­ri­ence.

“It’s very in­ter­est­ing; you don’t get to see that a lot,” said 21-year-old. “My tech­nique is not quite there yet, but I’m a fast learner. I re­ally en­joy tai chi. It’s prob­a­bly the most fun ac­tiv­ity that I’ve done this year.”

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