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The Asian Swing: tennis goes East

Ashley Greenwood 2018-04-09 14:29

The early season starts in the extreme heat of the Australian Open, followed by a string of hard court tournaments in Dubai and the United States, and then the clay swing tournaments in Monte Carlo, Madrid Rome, and Paris. The players have two weeks to adapt before the third grand slam, the prestigious Wimbledon event in the UK, and after the final slam of the season in New York the attention shifts to Asia.

The Asian swing has changed a lot in recent years, and it might now be more appropriately called the “China Swing”. The Thailand Open franchise has since been replaced, with the Shenzhen Open taking over the event since 2014. And in 2016 the Chengdu Open replaced the Malaysia Open in Kuala Lumpur. In fact, the only other Asian tournament on the mens ATP tour is the Rakuten Japan Open, which may well suffer as the China Open, the only event where the mens ATP and womens WTA tours combine, takes place during the same week.  

The China Open has become one of the WTA’s top four tournaments, while the Shanghai Rolex Masters is the highlight and dramatic conclusion of the ‘China Swing’, and was voted Masters 1000 tournament of the year for five years in a row between 2009-2013.

The growing number of tournaments in China reflects the growing popularity of the sport, which is now just behind Basketball and Association Football as the countries favourite to watch on TV. It’s estimated 14 million people in China regularly play tennis and the Chinese government wants to increase that by 15 percent every year. Tom Cannon, professor and sports finance expert at the University of Liverpool Management School in England calculates that the nation’s tennis market has reached $4 billion annually!


The growing popularity of the sport is also achieved by being able to watch the best players in the world playing at the China swing tournaments, and the players only want to come and play at the tournaments that are professionally run and look after the athletes.

Charles Humphrey Smith, Managing Director of Juss Event, the company that stages the Shanghai Rolex Masters told the BBC: "When you run an event it's like a little town. You have medical, fire and police, all the fundamental services people need. If a player needs a patch sewn on his shirt you need a laundry on site. If there are dietary requirements you need certain chefs on site.”

While the success of these events has helped tennis to develop a fanbase in China, home grown tennis stars like Australian and French Open winner Li Na have also helped to encourage more to take up the sport.  "At most tournaments, the crowd demographic is a little older, 35-plus, but in Asia and certainly China it's a very young demographic," says Smith. "Young people are picking up on tennis and playing it too - that will change the game in Asia too. Li Na broke the barrier in China. It's not a matter of if, but when Asia has more top tennis players."


Chinese women have had more success than the men, with Li Na achieving a career-high ranking of world No. 2 on the WTA Tour in 2014, winning nine WTA singles titles, including two Grand Slam singles titles during her career.  Zhang Ze, China's highest-ranked male singles player, is currently number 157 in the world. He reached the quarterfinals of the 2012 China Open and in 2013 he teamed up with Roger Federer to play doubles at the Shanghai Rolex Masters.

Novak Djokovic wont be on court for the rest of the year due to an elbow injury, giving defending champion and world number 1, Andy Murray, the chance to take his record for the most wins at the Shanghai Rolex Masters, which takes place this year on October 8th – 15th.

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