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Tennis thriving without local stars
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10:47, November 19, 2007

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It may be several years before China produces a Yao Ming or a Liu Xiang in the sport of tennis. And while a homegrown superstar would certainly help boost the profile of tennis in China, the world's top tennis players should consider applying for multiple- entry visas.

Officials at the Masters Cup in Shanghai, which wrapped up yesterday, say the enthusiasm shown by tennis fans, sponsors and organizers over the last eight days - as well as the success of past tennis events here - suggest that the popularity of tennis will only accelerate in the coming years.

Chinese fans at the Masters Cup in Shanghai pose with terracotta warrior statues of the top eight men's singles players. Clockwise: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Nicolay Davydenko, Richard Gasquet, Fernando Gonzalez, David Ferrer and Andy Roddick. Yang Shizhong

Charles Humphrey Smith, managing director of the international division at New Sports & Entertainment, the Shanghai-based organizer of the Masters Cup, said popular players traditionally help build up the sport in their home countries over a number of years.

"All sports love heroes," Smith said.

The rapid growth of tennis in China without a hometown star, however, has thrilled governing officials with high expectations.

"In China, we're creating a tennis boom without domestic players," Smith said, adding that he's optimistic the country will eventually produce major stars. "In five to 10 years, there's going to be a top 10 Chinese player."

At the Masters Cup, the top eight men's singles players in the world were invited to compete for significant cash prizes, although Tour rules did not require them to show up. Shanghai will host the Cup again next year and then it will move to London and be renamed the ATP World Tour Finals.

In 2009 Shanghai will be a permanent stop in the World Masters Series, which will change its name to ATP 1000, a more prestigious full-fledged tournament and a mandatory tennis event for players on the Tour, Smith said.

In addition, the 2009 tournament will have about 100 singles and doubles players compared to the 24 during the Masters Cup. Beijing will also host the ATP 500 series tournament in 2009, which is one tier below the 1000 series.

"We will definitely grow," said Smith. "Not just the scale of the event, but our promotion and marketing will get better and better."

The Masters Cup also attracted sponsorship from some of the world's top brands, including Mercedes Benz, China Mobile and Shanghai Hilton, a sign that the sport has a real chance to be successful here.

About 100,000 spectators watched the Masters Cup matches in 2006, and organizers estimated that number increased by between 10 and 12 percent this year. Based on the reaction so far, the road ahead is bright for the game that's likely to attract legions of domestic and international fans.

One of the ways the governing body of the sport is trying to grow tennis in China is to support the development of young players, said Brad Drewett, the CEO of ATP International Group and the tournament director of the Masters Cup.

"I've seen a lot of young juniors here in China and they have a lot of potential," Drewett said. He believes young players who saw Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and other superstars in Shanghai last week may be inspired to pursue a tennis career as opposed to traditional sports in China such as table tennis or volleyball.

He said the new event in 2009 will be good for tennis not only in China, but throughout Asia.

"I have no doubt in five to 10 years, it will be one of the top events in the world," Drewett said.

Source: China Daily

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