CRAZY FANS: Enthusiastic audience waits for tennis stars to sign autographs during the 2010 China Open on October 11 (JIANG XIAOYING)
October was a happy time for the sport of tennis and tennis fans in China. The China Open in Beijing, the 2010 Shanghai Rolex Masters and the China Tennis Grand Prix in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, all take place.
After football and basketball and even boxing, golf, rugby, snooker and cricket, tennis has also got in the queue of vigorous competition for attention in the marketplace.
As an emerging tennis market, China is now drawing the attention of the entire tennis world thanks to its large potential and rising players in the sport, said Stacey Allaster, Chairman of the Sony Ericsson Women's Tennis Association (WTA) Tour.
At present, China has two WTA tournaments each year—the Guangzhou Open and the top-level China Open in Beijing. An Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Masters event is also held in Shanghai.
The China Open enjoyed unprecedented success this year. Organizers claimed that all tickets to the event, which was held from September 25 to October 11 at the Lotus Court of the National Tennis Center, were sold out by the second day of the competition.
Upgraded to one of the four Crown-Jewel WTA tournaments, the top tier of the tour last year, the China Open has become the most important event before the season-ending championship in Doha, Qatar. The winner in Beijing claims 1,000 points and a mammoth $4 million and improves her chances of capturing the No.1 crown at the end of the season. The men's competition has risen from a $500,000 to a $2 million ATP 500 event.
The event also provided a grand opportunity for Chinese fans to see more top world players and their high-level competitions.
During the China Open, fans witnessed Caroline Wozniacki become the first Danish tennis player to be crowned world No.1 when she beat Czech Petra Kvitova to reach the quarter-finals on October 7.
The Danish girl also outlasted Russian Vera Zvonareva on October 11 to be the champion of the China open.
On the men's side, 23-year-old Serbian Novak Djokovic, world No.2 tennis player, was unstoppable in claiming his second China Open title with a victory on Spanish No.8 seed David Ferrer.
The 2010 Shanghai Rolex Masters, an ATP 1000 event, attracted most world top players. Besides the former world No.1 Roger Federer from Switzerland, the top players also included Spanish world No.1 Rafael Nadal, Serbian world No.2 Djokovic, Robin Soderling of Sweden and world No.4 Andy Murray of Britain.
A booming market
The breakout moment for Chinese tennis came in 2004 when a hitherto unknown Chinese duo Li Ting and Sun Tiantian struck doubles gold at the Athens Olympics.
After that, more Chinese tennis players have alternated in setting new standards for the country.
After two years at university, Li Na became the first Chinese player to win an event on the WTA circuit, the first ranked in the top 20 and the first to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final at Wimbledon in 2006.
In 2006, more tennis history was written when Zheng Jie and Yan Zi won doubles at the Australian Open and Wimbledon. At Wimbledon in 2008, Zheng became the first Chinese player ever to reach the semifinals of a Grand Slam singles tournament, and in 2009, became the first Chinese player to be ranked in the world's top 15.
During the 2010 Australian Open in January, Li and Zheng made history, becoming the first two Chinese players to reach the top four of a Grand Slam tournament simultaneously and Li then became the first Chinese player to break into the world top 10 and she managed to reach No.9 in the world rankings in August.
"Li's reaching of the world's top 10 is a milestone in China's tennis history and provides great encouragement to other Chinese players," said Sun Jinfang, Deputy Director of the Chinese Tennis Association (CTA). "The growth of the tennis population is the foundation of the sport's popularity and also a priority for the CTA."
According to the WTA Tour, China has 30,000 tennis courts and an estimated 14 million people in China regularly play tennis, up from 1 million when the sport returned to the Olympics in 1988.
"More than 100 tennis tournaments for amateur players have also boosted the popularity of the sport here," she said.