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Tennis gaining popularity in China

By Nate Schlabach  (CRI Online)

10:31, October 10, 2012

Tennis in China continues to be one of the fastest growing sports, as it becomes more accessible and affordable throughout the country.

Director of the Shanghai Masters, Michael Luevano, says he's seen the popularity of the sport skyrocket over the last several years.

"I've seen an amazing thing actually in that time frame of 17 years and the growth of tennis and the positioning of tennis has been the most pleasing. The only thing I can compare it to probably is basketball, which obviously when Yao Ming became a global super star you saw the sport go beyond anyone's expectations. Two years ago when Li Na won the French Open you saw the same similar spike in the interest of the sport."

Luevano now estimates there are some 50 million people playing tennis, or at least interested in the sport, in China.

That would put Tennis 7th as far as sports participation is concerned.

World number two Novak Djokovic has some thoughts on the matter, saying Chinese fans have become some of the most loyal fans in the world.

"There is definitely an indication that tennis is popular here with the new presence that they are giving us and obviously their unconditional support. So from the players perspective I don't think their crazy. I think their fantastic very loyal and I think they appreciate players maybe more then anywhere else in the world."

China Central Television is reporting tennis is now the third-most popular sport it broadcasts, coming in behind only football and basketball.

The WTA tour estimates there are 30,000 plus courts in the country, giving people the ability to learn and play the sport.

Luevano says they've come a long way since hosting the first tournament here in China.

"In the late 90s when we started with the Heineken Open and I remember having to bus in students from schools and bringing in the Chinese military to sit in the bleachers to watch the tennis to doing you know 120,000 paid spectators over 8 days. You know were not giving away tickets anymore."

Experts can point to several key areas as reasons behind the rise in the sport, like becoming a fully-fledged Olympic sport.

When that happened, the Chinese government started increasing investment into tennis through public and private companies like the International Tennis Federation and the Chinese Tennis Association.

Creating amateur development programs and introducing the sport in schools has also helped players like Li Na emerge.

The Chinese government has also invested heavily in developing world-class tennis facilities and tournaments, like the ongoing Shanghai Masters.

And it's expected that as more resources are pumped in to the sport, and more Chinese players continue to emerge, tennis here in China is likely to reach even greater heights.

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