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After Chinese players depart, French Open is pushed off stage
It's not tennis that's popular in China it's Chinese tennis players.
With Li Na and company long since eliminated, the French Open final couldn't find enough viewers to justify a nationwide telecast in China as it went head-to-head with the Euro 2012 soccer tournament on Sunday night.
As two of the world's best players, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, fought it out at Roland Garros, tennis diehards were forced to go online. CCTV-5, the national sports channel, dropped the match in favor of an all-night soccer broadcast featuring a key pairing between Spain and Italy.
Although the rained-out final's remaining two sets were televised on Monday evening, they drew much less attention than the pool-stage game between England and France played later.
"Compared with a tennis match without a Chinese star, a soccer game between two traditional European powerhouses is more intriguing for fans. Our ratings analysis has proven it," Liu Zhuang, a veteran tennis reporter with CCTV, told China Daily on Monday.
After the soccer tournament began on Friday, CCTV pared its coverage of the French Open even though there was a three-hour gap after tennis began.
It was a sharp contrast with last year, when CCTV-5 earned a record rating of 10 percent for Li's victory over Italian veteran Francesca Schiavone.
It was the first Grand Slam singles title for an Asian player.
Li's win drew more than 116 million viewers in China, making it the nation's most-watched sports event ever.
"The ratings for this year's French Open broadcast have declined a lot, especially after all the Chinese players were knocked out," Liu said.
CCTV decided to broadcast tennis online and on the golf and tennis channel - which reaches far fewer viewers - after soccer began.
"Although it's enjoyed a boom period following Li's feat at Roland Garros, tennis is a tiny sport compared with soccer in China," Liu said.
Tennis fans aren't buying it.
Some diehards who couldn't afford the golf and tennis channel complained on CCTV commentator Tong Kexin's micro-blog that the decision was made only because soccer brings more lucrative advertisements.
More than 200 fans gathered at the XIU Bar at Beijing's Yintai Center to watch the rematch of the six-hour Australian Open final between Nadal and Djokovic on Sunday night.
"We believe a Grand Slam final is more important for tennis fans than a European Championship game," said Leo He, deputy director of the China Open's marketing department. "To host this kind of match-watching party during major events is an ideal way to improve our client service and cultivate the fans' loyalty."
(China Daily 06/12/2012 page24)